Of the 100,000 or so people employed in the UK railway engineering industry, the combined need for additional staff and the ageing profile of the existing workforce will hit the 14,500-strong Traction and Rolling Stock sector especially hard.
An additional 4,900 technicians and engineers will be required by 2025 simply to keep pace with today’s need and a further 3,300 will be required as a result of future projects and technology. With around 4,000 more due to retire by 2023, the task is made greater still; especially given that over half the workforce will reach retirement age in the next fifteen years.
Added to this demographic challenge are the demands of major projects such as Crossrail, HS2 and electrification works – but above all, the whole move toward the ‘Digital Railway’; including programmes such as the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and advanced train control systems.
Network Rail’s CEO Mark Carne has spoken of this challenge, explaining that by “using smart trains, we can provide downthe-wire information to people on the track, completely changing the way we work”: adding that it is “the biggest change in the railway in many generations.” The only problem, he said, was that “we don’t currently have a supply chain capable of delivering this sort of change programme – we don’t have enough people with the skills to do it.”*.
*Carne’s vision for a Digital Railway, interview with Nigel Harris, Rail Magazine, December 2014