· 2 min read · Features

Closing the UK transport skills gap


The transport industry should develop a sustainable talent pipeline by leveraging young people

Over the past decades the demand for transport has seen tremendous growth in both the public and private sectors. In 2015 793 billion passenger kilometres were travelled domestically, while 65.7 million visits were made abroad by UK residents. Conversely, Britain’s infrastructure is ranked 24th in the world. Roads are clogged, trains are overcrowded, and there are frequent delays and cancellations on all methods of transport. The government has invested in major infrastructure developments like Crossrail and HS2, and more such developments and incremental improvements to existing infrastructure will be key to the industry’s success.

Movement to Work (MtW) believes the 16- to 24-year-old NEET population is ideally poised to help the transport sector, especially given its ageing workforce. The UK transport industry is highly skewed to the 45-plus age range, with nearly half over 45. The Department for Transport (DfT) forecasts a skills shortage of 55,000 by 2020, and 40% of the shortfall in the rail sector can be potentially attributed to people retiring. Frequently cited areas of shortages include engineering and technical, safety management, construction management and client and project leadership.

To keep up with the pace of growth and demand, organisations in the transport industry should develop a sustainable talent pipeline by leveraging young people, including NEET individuals, given their willingness and ability to develop the skills needed in the industry.

One key means of doing this is through offering more short-term work placements that can then lead to long-term apprenticeships and jobs. Yet only 3% of all apprenticeships in the UK in 2016 were in the transport industry and these figures have been static for the last three years. The situation is also true for full-time employment, where only 2.5% of all employed 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK work within the transport industry.

For there to be an essential movement in the demographic distribution of the transport industry there needs to be a shift in recruitment. The DfT, which oversees Crossrail, TfL, Highways England, Network Rail and HS2, recognises the importance of developing a talent pipeline of young people and has targeted 30,000 apprenticeship starts by 2020, of which nearly 70% would be levels 1 to 3. Other employers such as Virgin Trains, Rail Supply Group, easyJet and major airports like Heathrow and Manchester Airport Group provide a variety of work-based training, upskilling and apprenticeship programmes.

While these initiatives have grained traction more needs to be done to bring young people, especially NEETs, into full-time employment in the transport industry. MtW is working towards on-boarding more members and welcomes employers within the transport sector to discuss the benefits to their business of participating in our collective efforts to close the transport skills gap.

Vasi Nadarajah is programme director of Movement to Work