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Why attracting new talent is essential to support the UK’s transport infrastructure

The UK transport industry is preparing for a huge boom – with the launch of revolutionary projects like Crossrail and HS2, the demand for talented, skilled workers in rail and engineering is higher than ever. But who’s going to fill those vacancies?

As with engineering in general, the transport industry is facing a skills gap between demand and supply which is wider than ever before, and the rail sector in particular is failing to attract the talent needed to fill the gaps.

The government has already recognised this problem, with an enquiry being launched into the skills shortage in road haulage, and the promise that a portion of the £70 billion transport budget will be invested in training up the next generation of rail contractors – including the creation of 30,000 apprenticeships.

There are estimations that the rail and transport fields will need an additional 1.82 million engineering professionals by 2022, but there is a real fear that these gaps will not be filled.

But why is this innovative and promising industry being overlooked? And how can it become more appealing to prevent the skills shortage getting worse?


What are the current issues?

PWC’s Transportation and Logistics 2030 Series ‘Winning the Talent Race’, published back in 2012, found that the ‘brand perception of the transport industry needs reinvigorating and it’s seen as one of the most poorly paid and least diverse industries to work in’.

Diversity is a major issue across the entire engineering sector; it appears the gender gap is just as wide as the skills one. Women only account for around 7% of the UK’s total engineering workforce, and this lack of balance is putting pressure on the industry as well as discouraging young women from seeing engineering as an attractive and inspiring career option.

Availability of rail and transport qualifications in further education could also be impacting the number of skilled workers needed to plug the gap; Professor Simon Iwnicki, Chair of the IMechE Railway Division, spoke out last year to warn about the skill shortage and cited railway engineering courses at university as being vastly underrepresented, with only one course provider compared to 47 and 43 for automotive and aerospace engineering respectively.


What can companies do to start attracting top talent?

It’s not enough just to state that you support diversity in your employees – you need to show it. Think carefully about how your company is presented and marketed; is it the cliché image of men wearing hard hats and holding clipboards, or are you really showing the people at the heart of your business in action? Are you giving young women something to aspire to? In modern recruitment, the candidate chooses the company as much as the company chooses the candidate, so you need to think about what makes your business a great place to work – for everyone – and share that with your potential talent at every opportunity.

Another issue that Professor Iwnicki of IMechE spoke about was the lack of clear routes for progression in the rail and transport industry. With a workforce that are constantly trying to identify opportunities to develop themselves professionally, companies need to ensure there are clear pathways for new talent that enable them to make the most of their abilities and build the ambitious career they’re looking for.

One way to provide clarity to potential recruits about the opportunities that are available to them by joining your company is to design and deliver clear training and graduate programmes; at Gradvert, we have worked with Go Ahead, the UK’s busiest rail operator, to attract, recruit and train top talent for three years running, and have seen great results. Their latest Operations Manager graduate programme allows candidates to spend time with a range of rail operating companies and see every aspect of the business, meaning they are highly skilled, highly trained and fully prepared to deal with the challenges to come.

The skills shortage is a real and inescapable fact for rail and transport companies, and the time to act is now. Don’t leave your recruitment of top talent down to chance – start thinking proactively about how you can attract the highest calibre of candidate to your company and you can ensure you have the right people on board to drive you through this incredibly exciting period for UK transport.


Looking to bring on new top talent? Looking at setting a Graduate Scheme? then download the – Ultimate guide to Graduate Recruitment


Gradvert work with companies across the UK to attract, recruit and retain top talent, specialising in the transport and logistics sector. To find out more about the graduate recruitment services we provide, call us on 0203 693 7380 or email

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