Business News The Griffin Report

Britain’s new high speed rail link, HS2, is well on the way to becoming a reality – and although the tracks have yet to be laid between London and Birmingham, one concrete sign of progress is the opening of the new National College for High Speed Rail Birmingham. Jon Griffin, Chamberlink’s award-winning columnist, takes a look at how the college will impact on the city, and the role it will play in helping get HS2 on track.

Birmingham’s new £22m National College for High Speed Rail is firmly up and running following its September 2017 launch – with plans on track to recruit 1,000 learners annually within five years. The high-tech training facility,

which also has a campus in Doncaster, is set to play a key role in providing the next generation of elite knowledge and skills to help power the long-anticipated £56bn HS2 line linking Birmingham and London and eventually other parts of the UK. Just six months on from its launch,

commercial finance director Martin Owen told ‘Chamberlink’ of the college’s ambitious recruitment plans – and his hopes that the complex could help provide future vital expertise to help drive UK growth and rebalance the economy away from the ‘overheated’ South-East. He said: “We took on our first

learners in September and have got about 100 at the minute, but we need to get up to 1,000 recruits per year over the next five years. Of that, 1,000 a large proportion would be working in some capacity on HS2 but the skills they will have are not just specific to HS2, they are transferable to other sectors such existing rail, road or air infrastructure. “It is a big challenge for us but at

the same time it is a very exciting time and we are very much looking forward to the day when we will have over 1,000 learners here. Our offer goes from half-day workshops to a one-year full-time course through to three-year apprenticeships – part of the role is to match apprenticeships with jobs and the demand from learners.” Martin, who has more than 20

years’ experience in the learning and skills sector, is keen to stress that the new college, built on land next to the Digbeth branch canal at Birmingham Science Park Aston, is not just a recruitment facility for HS2. “We are separate from HS2 Ltd

and are an independent learning provider. Learners could stay with HS2 for 10 years or so and then they may want to go off to high- speed projects in North America, Asia, South America or elsewhere. “There are some 50 high-speed


High-speed learning: Martin Owen

‘Birmingham has a very young population and there are great opportunities here for young people. We will provide all the training that they need’

rail projects across the world and we have had interest here from China, Bulgaria, Switzerland and Malaysia, to name a few. There are also other projects, such as the Northern Powerhouse Rail or Crossrail Two. Skills gained at the college could equally be applied to these projects as well as road projects or airport schemes. “Birmingham has a very young

population and there are great opportunities here for young people. We will provide all the training that they need.” The launch of the Birmingham facility could scarcely be more

timely for the rail industry and the wider economy as a whole, as well publicised statistics illustrate. It is estimated that around 30

per cent of the current railway workforce need further training to deliver HS2, while 8,700 graduate- level engineers will be required annually by the rail industry during the next ten years. Meanwhile, 20 per cent of rail engineers are over 55, against a national background of a worrying skills gap in engineering, with a shortfall adding up to tens of thousands following years of under-investment in skills by industry and government alike.

In addition, just four per cent of the country’s rail engineers are women. Martin said: “There has been a

well-publicised shortage of engineers in the UK for years, with a skills gap in engineering and construction. And it is not just about the numbers that are needed, it is also about the type of skills that are required which will be at higher levels than needed to date, and we are working hard to address diversity across the industry to ensure the skills gap closes.” With the National College for High-Speed Rail set to help bridge the skills divide, Martin is naturally keen to underline the benefits of HS2 to both the West Midlands and the UK as a whole as the launch date looms closer with each passing year.

Continued on page 18...

Picture: Marc Kirsten

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