Recent announcements regarding HS2 and Network Rail’s £37.5billion investment are undoubtedly welcome developments for the industry and could herald a renaissance in engineering in this country.
The news that HS2 is set to create an estimated 100,000 jobs along with the 200 major rail projects that have received investment, including Thameslink, Crossrail and London Overground, is all good news serving as a positive outlook for the industry.
Yet a recent report by the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE) for the Office of Railway Regulation details concerns over whether the suitably qualified and experience staff will be available to resource the rail sector in the years to come.
Some of the country’s leading universities, such as the University of Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam University, have offered some excellent industry-relevant degrees for many years and now, in response to growing interest in the field, Bath and Liverpool universities are following suit by setting up new degree courses in Rail Systems Engineering.
This has to be good news for the industry, as the Higher Education (HE) sector promotes rail as a viable career route linked to their degree offering.
But as more HE providers become increasingly involved in the rail sector, does more need to be done to forge a link between employers and education so that academic qualifications are complemented with practical skills and hands-on experience?
In my view it is absolutely critical that the rail industry effectively engages with the HE sector to ensure that universities are producing well-rounded, work-ready graduates who have the right combination of work experience and academic qualifications to meet employers’ needs.
One solution could be an increase in the number of sandwich degrees. These are effective in not only providing people with an academic qualification, but also giving young people a real insight into what working in the sector is really like and, crucially, equipping them with work-based experience.
The rail sector faces great opportunities ahead. If we are to maximise these opportunities it’s imperative that the industry collaborates with a whole range of training and education providers to equip our young people with the skills, experience and qualifications to make the future happen.