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Apprentices need targeted training to tackle rail skills shortage

David Cameron’s call for apprentices to kickstart economic recovery last month certainly echoed the prevailing feeling within the industry. 

Following a tremendously difficult and challenging period, the construction industry is beginning to get back on track, but we now face another problem that many in the sector predicted – a shortage of skilled labour.

Over the past few years we have been seeing a shift to people working short-term contracts due to the uncertain nature of the marketplace.  

There are more permanent positions opening up reflecting a certain confidence in the industry, as businesses are keen to secure the best people for the long term. However, with this brings a significant demand for highly skilled labour for both the construction and infrastructure sectors – something which the industry is desperately lacking.

According to the results of a survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Building earlier in the year and reported in Construction News, ‘a skills crisis is jeopardising recovery in the construction industry’. 

More than three-quarters of professionals surveyed by the CIOB believed a lack of skilled domestic construction personnel and the scarcity of good training and investment during the downturn had led to a skills shortage.

Of almost 1,000 respondents to the poll, 85 per cent said they were concerned there may not be enough skilled people available when the industry needs them.

This endorses similar research by ConstructionSkills where over a quarter of construction firms reduced their training in 2010, with 18 per cent planning to scale back further this year.

These findings certainly highlight what a critical situation we are in and the desperate need for all contractors to step up to the challenge of filling the skills gap – in particular focusing on young people and giving them a valuable start in life.

One sector in particular that is feeling the pressure to recruit and train more skilled engineers is in rail.  With many large-scale projects in the pipeline and currently underway, investment is urgently needed to train a skilled workforce to deliver these programmes.

We take our commitment to providing training and placements very seriously and these have been crucial to us being able to fulfil and deliver on our contracts in more ways then one. 

For example, we are currently involved in the highly complex Canal Tunnels project in London.  The scheme near Kings Cross Station forms part of Carillion’s £120 million Key Output 2 contract with Thameslink and we have put in place a comprehensive apprenticeship programme, which the transport minister Stephen Hammond recently visited. 

He met with 10 of our apprentices who have been on site since August and have completed a 16 week block training course gaining technical certification and health and safety training. As part of our rail apprentice programme, each apprentice has also completed their PTS and Track Induction, through Carillion Rail Training. They are now gaining hands on practical skills and experience working towards their NVQ portfolio completion.

This project has challenging work requirements so it’s vitally important that our apprenticeship programme helps apprentices to develop the necessary skills for such a complex scheme. 

Investing in providing such schemes and training courses will not only benefit employers – in providing them with the much needed help through this economic climate - but it will also be guaranteeing a solid skills base is in place to see the industry through.

Adam Green is managing director for Carillion Construction Services and a new columnist for Construction News

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