Businesses and associations across the sector did their part to promote railway apprenticeship opportunities to students collecting their GCSE and A-level results last month.
Network Rail announced it had begun accepting applications for its spring 2019 apprenticeship programme, with other employers celebrating the achievements of apprentices within their ranks.
With an inescapable skills deficit approaching, the government established the Strategic Infrastructure Skills Strategy and set a target of creating 30,000 rail and road apprenticeships by 2020.
The scale of the challenge has been illustrated by the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), which has estimated that the rail industry is set to lose 50,000 people by 2033 through retirement.
Two thousand rail and road apprenticeships were reported in the year following the publication of the skills strategy, rising by 22 per cent in year two.
Competition for places
Clair Mowbray, chief executive of the National College for High Speed Rail, said that despite the demand for skills, applicants would still face stiff competition for places. Speaking to RailStaff earlier this year, Network Rail’s head of training strategy, Michelle Nolan-McSweeney, revealed that more than 4,000 applications had been submitted for its 167 Level 3 apprenticeship roles due to start this month.
“While the government has voiced a strong commitment to apprenticeships, the reality is that the number of apprenticeship places available does not meet demand, and the competition for apprenticeship places is even greater for the higher valued technical positions,” said Clair.
“Those looking to take their first step towards an apprenticeship or to get their foot in the door of the engineering, transport and infrastructure industries, can greatly benefit from taking a technical course which provides practical, hands-on experience.
“As an employer-led college we have created the Certificate for Higher Education in High Speed Rail and Infrastructure in conjunction with our employer partners to ensure that learners are ‘apprenticeship-ready’ with an excellent grounding in the industry that puts them in pole position for an apprenticeship as well as other routes into working with some of the best employers in the industry.”
Results not a barrier
Engineering consultants WSP were due to welcome 80 new apprentices to the business in September, subject to them achieving the results required to satisfy their conditional offers. But the door isn’t closed to candidates who don’t receive the grades they were hoping for.
WSP said: “On results day, our learning and development team were on hand to answer any questions our future apprentices may have. If one hasn’t secured the necessary grades to get onto our programme, we can discuss with them an alternative solution and try to enrol them onto a lower level course. We always try to find a solution and grades don’t always have to be a barrier to starting a successful career in engineering.”
Adding: “We invest significant time and energy promoting the value of apprenticeships in schools, as we want to attract talented young men and women into the sector from all backgrounds. Our outreach has paid off, and we are delighted to have almost tripled the number of female apprentices at WSP in the last year. But as we celebrate the Year of Engineering, we know that there is still much more to do as the number of women in STEM apprenticeships has remained static since 2012.
“We need to close the engineering skills gap and by employing a growing number of school leaver apprentices, WSP trains up individuals who will be able to deliver the UK’s major infrastructure projects for decades to come.”