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Meeting the delivery challenge for CP5 and beyond

Philip Hoare | 12 Dec 2014 | Comments

With CP5 well and truly upon us, the challenge the rail industry is facing is how we ‘step up’ and show what we can do in terms of delivering the programme on time, with greater efficiency but above all safely. It’s a pretty tough challenge. Network Rail’s plans for this control period will see an exciting programme of works delivered to make our railway network more modern, efficient and able to cope with rising demand. Having been awarded a number of contracts for CP5, Atkins is looking forward to the new opportunities ahead. Sat alongside projects such as HS2, Crossrail 2 and the introduction of new technology to make the railway smarter, I thinks it’s easy to get excited about what the future has to offer! The big question on my mind at the moment is are we doing enough to share this excitement with the rest of the UK so that we attract the skills and new thinking needed to successfully meet our aspirations? How will we as an industry deliver these major infrastructure programmes over the coming years while combating other challenges such as skill shortages and the continuing need to be more efficient?

I believe the answer lies in being more open to innovative and flexible ways of meeting the people demands of these programmes. We can do this in a number of ways but it is clear that we need to build skilled capacity in our sector. This means exciting the nation and then providing real opportunities for the next generation of railway engineers through graduate positions and apprenticeships and by re-training people from different walks of life to work with us.

Atkins, like other companies in the industry runs its own apprenticeship programmes which are giving young people the opportunity to learn about our sector and carve out an exciting career. Our rail business has employed more than 30 apprentices over the last couple of years and Atkins has pledged its support to the achievement of 5 per cent of our overall UK headcount being on a formalised apprentice, sponsored student and/or graduate programme. We have already met this target with 12.5 per cent of our workforce now made up of people from this background – but is this enough?

Another way to plug the skills gap is to employ skilled workers from different industries and overseas. Atkins has a lot of experience in this area, taking on ex-armed forces personnel to work in its Rail business. During 2013 we developed and ran an in-house training programme that sees ex-armed forces personnel become qualified signalling testers. Looking further afield, we teamed up with the University of Bucharest who run a specialist signalling degree (for which there is no equivalent in the UK) and have now employed a number of graduates from this programme.

As we all know, meeting the demands of the future is not just about bringing new people into our sector, it’s also about how well we work together across our industry. Working smarter, sharing objectives, challenges and successes and delivering projects in a truly collaborative manner must be the right way forward. That’s why I am committed to the principles of BS 11000, the standard for collaborative business relationships that provides organisations with a framework to set up formal alliances and partnerships. Early adopters of these principles such as the Stafford Area Improvements Programme are already on track to deliver one year ahead of their 2017 deadline.

So what’s the real opportunity here?

There is no doubt that many of us out there are making significant investments to attract and then develop new people into our sector. There is the Trailblazer group which developed the Railway Engineering Design Technician Apprenticeship Standard and the Technician Apprenticeship Consortium is doing some great work.

But are we doing enough? What I consistently hear is that there is no one size fits all solution – every business has different training needs. And guess what? This means we do our own thing and develop our own programmes. Probably not the most cost effective way of doing this and certainly not something that will excite our nation and push people towards a bright new career in the rail sector.

I believe we need to be smarter by combining our collective thinking and ideas, collaborating effectively for the greater good and developing nationally supported programmes that encourage new people into our industry either at the start of their careers or mid-career for those looking to re-train. Let’s build on what we have started and get it right this time – it’s vital for the future of Rail in the UK.

This article was originally published in the December 2014 edition of Rail Professional