17 July 2023

Why is it hard to find rail talent right now?  

Industry News Recruitment Advice

Why is it hard to find rail talent right now?  

Why is it hard to find rail and infrastructure talent right now?

In our latest Rail Labour Market Report we reveal that despite the UK outlook as a whole looking quite strong regarding talent supply and demand – the rail industry is another story entirely.  

The rail and infrastructure sector currently faces a major challenge – a shortage of skilled candidates, and a host of unmet sector demands.  Despite many career benefits in rail and infrastructure namely job security and competitive salaries – the shortage of candidates is making it increasingly difficult to fill vacancies, and for employers to achieve goals within their planned timeframes.  

Speaking with our rail recruitment expert Wayne Smith, Delivery Manager who has been recruiting for over16 years he believes that the problem is twofold.  

Attraction of entry-level / first generation engineers.  

“People see Rail roles as a ‘gritty’ industry. There’s a disconnect of the perception of the railway being old fashioned, with pigeon-holed old-school signaling etc.”  

The truth is the above couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, you need only look at the fact the rail industry introduced driverless trains before the automotive industry brought in driverless cars. Additionally, tech and innovation go beyond this – with projects such as the RSSB identifying the need for protection against cyber attacks due to increased tech across the industry.   

Wayne adds “A great example of a shift with the times is the huge investment of £82 billion in HS2 – an amazing project with innovation at its heart. They’re building stations of the future, stations that will withstand the inevitable temperature increases and increased floods as a result of climate change. A lot of the innovation is safety – it’s not so easily ‘seen’.”  

For the more experienced hires, the ones currently in the industry, this isn’t an issue. The less experienced hires, not so much. Which is why the rail and infrastructure sector is losing talent to other engineering and safety-regulated industries such as Defence and Pharmaceuticals.  In our free report, you can see a flow of which companies’ talent as a whole, across the rail and infrastructure industry, is coming and going from.  

So, what can be done to attract more entry-level candidates to rail industry careers?  

Not all careers are as attractive as others, and tech and innovation in the engineering world is something that most aspiring engineers want to be part of. Bringing more awareness to the areas where rail and infrastructure are steaming ahead is something that all employers would do well to include in their talent attraction and education partnership strategies.   

Organistations such as the not-for-profit, Young Rail Professionals exist for this very reason. Their partnerships and resources provide support to rail and infrastructure – with their mission to Promote, Inspire and Develop the next generation of railway talent.  

On the plus side, and we touch more on this on our blog E, D & I In the rail and infrastructure industry there’s been a noticeable uptake of female candidates due focus on attracting females into STEM education subjects. In our free rail and infrastructure talent report, we reveal the current % of men to women in the field.  

Skilled recruiters supporting employers with their senior-level hires. 

With an incredibly skilled and experienced workforce (we reveal the % of talent 8 years + experience in our free download.) the rail industry has some challenges when it comes to attracting already settled senior personnel.  

Employers within the sector are keen to keep a good mix of new and experienced talent within their businesses, as often it’s this careful balance which allows for the best ideas and delivery of innovative practices. 

What can be done to increase engagement and hires of experienced rail professionals?  

The industry is competitive, and with more SME consultancy-based businesses appearing, it’s something for the larger more established organisations to keep a mindful watch on. Utilising industry benchmarking for both benefits and salary can be useful in understanding the sweet spots for experienced talent.  

Wayne explains also how a good recruitment company that has a focus and strength in experienced rail hires is essential for ‘staying on track’ with resourcing goals too:  “Working with experienced recruitment consultants like us, who specialise senior-level rail hires, employers benefit from our approach to passive candidates (those who aren’t applying actively for roles) – not only do we have the tools to easily engage with these candidates, but we have built up relationships too. Our understanding of the industry, salary expectations and other key benefits enables us to have more relevant and persuasive conversations with those who aren’t currently in the market for a new role.”  

In a nutshell, it comes down to perception and motivation. Ultimately, all talent – experienced or new wants to be part of something that meets their personal and career ambitions – whether that’s innovative sustainable tech-led projects, career enhancement or, greater financial reward.  Employers should remove the guesswork from their resourcing strategy by working with strategic recruitment partners. People, like us – who can support you not only with the engagement of both active and passive candidates but with labour market reports – like the one we’ve (not so subtly) mentioned in this blog.  Working with partners whose goals align with yours – whether that’s education-driven not for profits or recruitment agencies can help both in the short and long term.  

Here’s our free Rail and Infrastructure Labour Market Report. 

It contains a lot of the data backing the above up – as well as some interesting further reads from other sources.  

Or, if you’re ready to discuss some of the talent requirements you have, feel free to reach out to Wayne here.  

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