Neil Franklin, Head of Skills Intelligence, NSAR
The rail industry has never needed so much new talent to deliver a modern 21st-century railway. Never more has it needed a talent solution to help bring new people into the industry.
Mind the skills gap
A lack of talent is becoming a crucial challenge to the rail sector, especially if we don’t get more people interested in working in the industry. Historical working practices, demographic changes and a lack of diversity, compared with other sectors, pose a significant threat to the business models and transformation of many rail companies. An ageing workforce means that the battle for young and talented workers is only going to intensify. Millennials can be the key to solving rail’s long-term skills shortage and we need to engage them, otherwise, our ability to deliver a more technology-driven and customer-focused rail system that meets future growth requirements will be held back.
Rail struggles to be seen as a desirable industry to work in, but the truth is, with HS2 and major advancements happening to the backbone of the UK’s rail network, rail should look more exciting than ever to new entrants. A modern, technology led, rail industry has the capacity to inspire and raise the profile and image for careers in railway engineering and operations and we need to use this to challenge the perception of the rail industry. The reality is we are a dynamic industry that has seen unprecedented passenger growth levels in the last 20 years and this is set to continue, providing we invest in attracting, hiring, developing and retaining a productive, skilled and well-led workforce.
NSAR’s Skills Intelligence Model (SIM) confirms that we require tens of thousands of new talented employees in the next ten to fifteen years, just to replace those who chose to retire or leave the sector. We can reasonably predict where we will need them, in what volume we will need them, when we will need them and what skills they will need to have. Our ability to forecast future workforce demand is greater now than it ever has been and covers the whole scope of the rail industry, not just the engineering field. Using smart data analytics, we can inform the academic supply chain of what skills and talent the rail industry requires. The next challenge is how to get them.
Engagement is key at every stage of an individual’s career pathway but arguably is even more important from the very first interaction an individual has with our industry. We know that people who enter the rail profession tend to stay. The problem is all too often those expressing an interest end up being lost to other sectors before they have even got their first foot on rail’s career ladder.
How can rail win the talent race?
So how can we ensure we get today’s and tomorrow’s keen and eager talent on board? To help tackle the issue head-on, last month we launched NSAR-CONNECT (www.nsar-connect.co.uk), an innovative online placement service dedicated to retaining talent in the industry. The initiative enables the industry to join forces in a collaborative way to actively attract, redeploy and recruit talent where it is most needed.
NSAR-CONNECT manages the placement of apprentices, graduates and students exclusively in rail. It is the only online recruitment service which matches talented individuals from over-subscribed recruitment schemes with organisations struggling to find suitable candidates for open vacancies. It’s already gained the backing of 20 Patrons – all major names in the rail sector including Network Rail, Transport for London, HS2, Stagecoach, Alstom Transport UK & Ireland, Amey, Arriva, Balfour Beatty, Bombardier Transportation UK, RDG Group, Carillion, Colas, Costain Group, Morgan Sindall, PROCAT, Siemens, Hitachi, Thales UK, Virgin Trains East Coast, Volker Rail and IntoRail (through the Young Rail Professionals).
The solution is proving to be attractive to Beneficiary organisations who are signing up to the service to help them recruit this year’s apprentices, placement students, or graduates and gain access to a resource pool of enthusiastic, high calibre candidates that have been pre-screened by our Patron organisations and have reached an industry recognised level of assessment criteria.
NSAR-CONNECT is a great example of the industry working together to bring on board the next generation of talent and to meet the challenging government targets for 20,000 new apprentices by 2020 in rail. Like the UCAS clearing service, we are connecting people to openings they might not have initially considered while ensuring able candidates who could be the future generation of industry leaders are not lost to other industry sectors. An additional benefit is that the new service could save the rail industry over £3M annually in recruitment costs alone.
As a priority, we need to rethink ways of capturing the imagination of the next generation of able talent who we desperately need to plug immediate skills gaps and help build a strong pipeline of future leaders. It is no longer sufficient to blindly do what we’ve always done. And given what a challenge it is to attract new blood, we must do everything in our capacity to capture and bring on board those who show an interest and have the potential to help shape the future of the digital railway. Providing a good candidate recruitment experience with initiatives like NSAR-CONNECT has never been more important in today’s competitive talent marketplace. That recruitment experience doesn’t just affect talent pipelines or how an individual perceives an organisation as an employer, it affects their perception as a customer too and makes good business sense.