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HS2 bidders turn to thoughts of recruitment

The procurement for High Speed 2’s construction contracts is hotting up, meaning contractors in JVs are beginning to turn their attention to how they would recruit staff to fulfil the potentially huge pipeline of work.

The first appointments have been made to some of the frameworks for High Speed 2 and more contracts are set to open for bidding.

Consequently the minds of contractors and the HS2 team have turned to recruitment of staff.

HS2 skills and employment strategy manager Scott-James Eley estimates that the first phase of the project will generate 14,600 construction jobs, while phase two would create 10,000.

The phase two figure includes maintenance of the line, with a new depot opened at Staveley, near Chesterfield.

On average, 8,500 construction staff will be needed each month across both phases, with a peak of 22,672 construction operatives in spring 2020.

“The workforce will require higher-level technical skills than are typically found in the broader construction workforce”

Scott-James Eley, HS2

HS2 also wants 2,000 apprenticeships to be part of the construction workforce.

“The workforce will require higher-level technical skills than are typically found in the broader construction workforce,” Mr Eley says.

“We know 50 per cent will need skills at level three or above – that is equivalent to A-level. The UK construction workforce is trained to level two, if that.”

Education’s role

To improve the skills of the workforce, HS2 and employers are working together to set up a national college of high-speed rail in Birmingham and Doncaster that will open in 2017.

Forty per cent of the rail workforce is aged over 45 and the project will take 20 years, so it is important to attract new faces and bring back people who have left the industry.

HS2 has held events for young people and developed materials for classroom use.

It holds science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) workshops where teams of young people compete in design-and-build challenges.

“We will meet them halfway by supporting developments like the college so they can up-skill now. But they cannot put this off for the future”

Scott-James Eley, HS2

It also has a careers lab where company representatives help teachers deliver careers education.

Employers will be expected to meet employment targets for various groups, including women, although these have yet to be set and are likely to differ around the country.

Mr Eley says HS2 also wants 60 per cent of its supply chain to be small and medium-sized businesses. “The industry needs to start investing in their skills,” he says.

“We will meet them halfway by supporting developments like the college so they can upskill now. But they cannot put this off for the future.”

Kier’s JV projections

Contractors have formed joint ventures to bid for work on HS2 and are considering how to recruit the people they need.

Sean Jeffery is executive director for UK infrastructure at Kier, which has a JV with Carillion and Eiffage to bid for civil engineering and rail infrastructure work on HS2.

He says the firm is likely to recruit employees in a wide range of trades, including technical, engineering, management, administration and both skilled and unskilled operatives - including apprentices.

“There is a huge range of everything from joiners and concreters to specialist rail functions and then the building element in the stations,” he explains.

Mr Jeffery admits it is difficult to estimate how many people would be needed because the full detail of the contracts is not yet known.

But he says engineering packages on a major contract might include a project management team of 300 and a site-based workforce of around 600.

Kier’s JV would probably use a variety of recruitment methods including open days, he adds, which have been successful in Kier’s work on Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

International expertise

Another JV formed for HS2 comprises Bouygues Travaux Publics, Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick, which will target earthworks, tunnels and structures packages.

Bouygues Travaux Public business development director Stephen Leo says it will deliver about half the works itself and subcontract the other half using big subcontractors, such as for earthworks, and smaller regional contractors.

“We are keen on employing tier two and three companies and local SMEs to make sure they get their fair share, and that is typical of Bouygues around the world,” he says.

For tunnelling, contractors are similarly likely to need specialist staff or contractors.

In terms of the work Bouygues will deliver itself, Mr Leo says the firm would bring in some of its experienced people but also look to hire locally.

“We won’t just flood the market with French employees or extract people from Europe”

Stephen Leo, Bouygues Travaux Public

“We won’t just flood the market with French employees or people from Europe,” he says.

A spokeswoman says that, based on past performance, it would anticipate bringing in 20-30 per cent of senior management from BouyguesTP, another 25 per cent of in-house labour, and the remaining 50 per cent would be hired from a combination of preferably local SMEs and those hired and trained directly by the company.

Bouygues has a system called Minorange, where site staff at the top of their profession provide mentoring and training for people on site to raise standards.

Mr Leo adds that technical staff will get training in construction, estimating and design “so they understand what the other people are facing”.

Investment in skills now could pay off in future, HS2’s Mr Eley points out.

He says the project will be “at the bleeding edge” of construction, and so the advanced skills contractors develop for HS2 will stand them in good stead for future work.

“We will be building that capacity in the UK,” he says. “The kids in primary school now could be our project managers on phase two.”

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