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What does the future hold for one of the UK’s largest suppliers of specialist rail skills?

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Any responsible, mindful company in the recruitment and contingent labour market has the same primary objective. “Safety is paramount to me,” said Gary Hardaker, executive director at Vital Human Resources.

Based in Manchester, Vital Rail has been part of the UK’s rail community for more than 20 years, but the company’s story began long before that. Established by John Smith, Vital has been supplying skilled staff to a number of industries since 1983.

In 2013, the business was acquired by Morson Group and the one-time competitors now sit side by side as one of the largest resource suppliers in the UK.


Although the business sits at the heart of the rail industry in the North West, its 2,000 sponsored staff are located all around the country. A fleet of more than 400 commercial vehicles takes them to and from sites across the network, serving the company’s growing client base. As Gary explains, the company deploys everyone from site technicians to frontline operatives.

The business was recently rebranded Vital Human Resources. Beneath this brand sits Vital Rail; Vital Solutions, an international recruitment consultancy; and Vital Resources, which specialises in electrical and mechanical and construction resource.

Vital also has a growing contracting arm, Vital Rail Projects. With staff specialising in track, signalling, electrification, welding and civils, there are few projects that Vital Rail isn’t equipped to tackle. “It is a fiercely competitive market,” says Gary. But he believes the business has something special to offer.


Vital Rail is one of only a small number of labour supply companies to hold regional framework agreements with Network Rail. This work is organised from offices around England, Scotland and Wales. This huge logistical challenge is overseen by staff at the Salford headquarters, who are using technology to overcome some age-old issues.

Vital has developed a piece of bespoke software called PeopleSoft to help simplify the process. The unique system, which is managed by an in-house development team, is integrated with Sentinel which ensures that no member of staff can be assigned work without the correct competencies. The system’s Fatigue Management System automatically checks that all shift patterns, working hours and travel times fully comply at the resource planning stage.

Gary points out that only 35 per cent of work done by Vital Rail staff is carried out on weekdays, with the majority taking place at nights and weekends. To cater to the needs of a business that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, there is a control centre on the ground floor that can deal with last-minute rostering issues and record close calls.

The company has also applied a smart approach to how it manages its vast fleet. All of Vital Rail’s vehicles have tracking technology fitted which allows the company to not only log the location of its staff but also better plan servicing and monitor driver behaviour.

Health and wellbeing

Gary, who began his career in 1995 as a British Rail graduate – one of the last to join the scheme before privatisation, repeats the Network Rail mantra “everyone home safe, every day”.

How health and safety is managed for agency staff has at times come under scrutiny, but Gary said it’s very much at the top of his agenda for CP6.

“We want to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of every single member of staff going to and from work every day.”

The company aims to brief all of its sponsored staff at least once every quarter. Gary personally took action to improve the way briefings were delivered after previously visiting a site briefing.

Gary was part way through a briefing at Carlisle station when he decided enough was enough. “I was quite frustrated with how the briefing took place,” said Gary, who was unhappy about the lack of facilities for his staff.

Following that night shift, the business chose to invest in a specially equipped briefing van: the Vital Safety Conversation Vehicle (SCV). The initiative has been praised by industry leaders and there are now three of these vehicles based around the country. Each one has seating space inside and is equipped with TV monitors inside and out, a PPE store and a coffee machine.

Vital Rail has taken other steps to improve communication with its staff. Each of its offices has a dedicated safety advisor, so staff in that region know where to direct any concerns they might have.

“We want our workforce to know that they have our full support surrounding all safety issues 24/7,” said Gary.

The company also has a website – www.closecallnow.com – where staff can report hazards and has begun contacting employees with text alerts. Important safety messages are also regularly printed somewhere every member of staff is likely to look – their payslip.

Gary said that wellbeing was an area he wanted to see the business tackle in the coming months, working not only with its workforce but also their families.

Join the conversation

Gary is conscious that suppliers at all levels have a responsibility to help resolve issues the industry faces nationally. Over the next couple of years, the company plans to continue its work around apprenticeships and wants to offer development opportunities to long-serving staff who are keen to progress. A key part of this will require closer working with clients to understand their work banks and the future skills demand. Vital Rail has already delivered more than 300 apprenticeships with many going on to form part of the core workforce.

Gary added: “Vital already have a vast range of skills inside their workforce but would also like to see fresh new talent come on-board via apprenticeships whilst still offering progression to our already dedicated workforce ahead of CP6.”

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