Time to enhance diversity, in all its forms

Welcome to my second blog for the National College for High Speed Rail. As I write this, the college is taking vital steps to make the rail industry an attractive place for young people to work. Large-scale rail infrastructure projects are currently receiving unprecedented levels of investment and we must capitalise on this to change perceptions of rail, using the new and emerging opportunities in rail as a platform to make our industry appealing to different types of people.

Advances in technology are driving change in the rail sector at an unprecedented speed, unleashing new opportunities to develop different skill sets, which the college is hungry to take forward. Many of these skill sets are not those which would be traditionally associated with rail. They include software designing, coding, systems architecture, information management and even an increase in other more established skill sets, such as ecology and archaeology. These skills are being put to use on ground-breaking infrastructure programmes such as High Speed 2 and Crossrail 2, and on transformative initiatives such as the Digital Railway (which reflects the wider digitisation of infrastructure as a sector).

These new schemes are investing heavily in skills development across the board – the college is looking at a range of skills, including digital information management. In July, I am kicking off the formation of a new industry-led Trailblazer Apprenticeship in exactly that subject. When it comes to effective and proficient information management in the digital age, there is a growing gap in the workplace. The college is leading on the subject, yet it is worth noting that the skills taught will transcend sectors and apply across all engineering and related disciplines – so even if you were not originally thinking of a career in rail, it is worth checking out.

We are a seeing a real change in the future skills mix needed for the rail and engineering sectors; but it is equally important that we are attracting the right people into the industry. To do this, we need to be as open and inclusive as possible. I believe strongly that the more variety – in socio-economic background, in education, in ethnicity, gender, sexuality and life experience – the better, as this brings a range of different perspectives and outlooks to creative problem solving.

We have a responsibility to invest in the long-term future of a sustainable rail industry which responds readily to the challenges of innovation and the digital economy, and is a more attractive place for all kinds of different people to work.

So, what would I say to you if you are starting out as a young person now? Whatever your background, have a look at what the rail sector and the National College for High Speed Rail has to offer, you might be surprised at just what a world of opportunity exists for you.

This article was written by Ben Dunlop, practice director – Energy Systems, Transportation at Atkins