As the new Borders Railway smashes passenger projections, new stations open and leading companies expand their use of rail freight, the government has announced backing for 30,000 new apprenticeships to keep pace with demand. Provision of apprenticeships will be an integral part of new transport infrastructure contracts.

Youth strategy for young railway

As Britain’s ageing Victorian railway is upgraded and major projects push ahead to expand capacity, the industry and a supportive government are redoubling efforts to close the skills gap.

Under plans announced by the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, apprenticeship clauses will be written into new infrastructure contracts. Suppliers will be required to create one apprenticeship for every £3 million to £5 million of taxpayers’ money spent. The aim is to attract 30,000 apprentices to careers in transport – the contractual clauses cover both rail and road projects.

Higher skills levels

Rail chiefs are now arguing with increasing urgency for an expansion of workforce skills. Says HS2’s chief executive, Simon Kirby, ‘It’s clear that, as an industry, we need to get much better at building higher level skills. We also need to get much better at attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce.’

The new move is part of the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy, launched last summer and aimed at beefing up staff competencies and recruitment in the sector.

To coincide with the announcement, Network Rail launched its 2016 advanced apprenticeship scheme. Network Rail is looking to recruit 150 apprentices nationwide and last year received more than 3,500 applications.

The rail industry has already had some success but more needs to be done.


Says Crossrail boss Terry Morgan, ‘As we have seen on Crossrail, by working with our suppliers we can help young people begin long and successful careers in an exciting and nationally important sector. To create a workforce capable of delivering the unprecedented number of transport projects in the pipeline, it is vital we increase the number of apprentices and attract more women into the industry. This skills strategy is a huge step in the right direction, but all of us, from parents and teachers to chief executives and industry leaders have a role to play to help the next generation grab the exciting opportunities on offer.’

Career in gear

Network Rail’s chief executive, Mark Carne is urging young people to get their career in gear with an apprenticeship on the railways. Network Rail’s apprenticeship scheme has been hugely successful and is poised for further expansion.

‘Today we have more than 2,000 apprentices, current and graduated, who are making a vital contribution to delivering the biggest investment since the Victorian era through our £38 billion Railway Upgrade Plan,’ says Carne.

‘We are already looking at how we can adapt and grow our scheme to attract a more diverse range of applicants, which will, in time, help us improve our performance, run a better railway and support Britain as a whole in developing and training the engineers we need for economic success. I would urge every young person deciding on their future to consider kicking off their career with an apprenticeship.’

Women as well

Contracts let for major government transport infrastructure projects will, from March 2016, include targets for the creation of new apprenticeships. Patrick McLoughlin appointed  Crossrail chair Terry Morgan CBE to develop the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy in August 2015. The Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy also recognises the vital role women can play in the industry. Yet women represent just 20 per cent of employees on the railway as a whole and only 4.4 per cent of rail engineering roles.

That could all change as the campaign to win hearts and minds to careers in rail takes effect this spring.

Terry Morgan will be discussing the future skills demand for rail at the next Rail Exec Club networking luncheon on 10 March at the Institute of Directors, London. Visit for more information.

Images courtesy of Crossrail and Eurostar