It’s no secret that our industry has faced a skills challenge for some time. A huge, transformational project like HS2 has the credentials to bring about change; by leaving a lasting skills legacy through its apprenticeship and graduate programmes. Deb Carson from the High Speed Rail Group brings us some interviews with participants from their apprentice network

Despite a pipeline of major infrastructure projects over the last 10-20 years, there’s more we need to do to truly inspire young people about the potential career opportunities in the rail and infrastructure sectors, and the value and importance of STEM subjects. A huge, transformational project like HS2 has the credentials to bring about change; by leaving a lasting skills legacy through its apprenticeship and graduate programmes. Back in 2017, HS2 launched its first apprenticeships, welcoming 25 apprentices on a two-year programme across three disciplines.

Five years on, the project now has 825 new apprentice starts, which is impressive progress considering it’s only around 18
months since main works construction started on Phase One of the railway. Skills, Employment & Education (SEE) is one of HS2’s strategic priorities, and during the lifecycle of the project HS2 and its supply chain will create at least 2,000 apprenticeship opportunities across a wide range of disciplines and specialisms; from the more obvious civil engineering and quality control to cyber security, commercial procurement, business support and health and safety. The application process for apprenticeships is designed with inclusivity and accessibility at its core, which is clearly paying off with 41 per cent of the apprentice intake at HS2 Ltd in 2020/21 from BAME backgrounds, with 38 per cent female.

Members of the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) all have an interest in the successful delivery of high speed rail in Britain, having helped deliver major infrastructure projects here and around the world, ranging from creating entirely new high speed networks through to maintaining and improving the UK’s existing rail network. We are a unique group, with a unique set of expertise.

In 2020 the group established a network – the High Speed Rail Apprentice Network – made up of apprentices and graduates from across our member companies. The aim of the network was to help connect apprentices from across HS2 and its contractors, and the wider HSR industry – providing apprentices with opportunities for building a much broader awareness of the HS2 project across its many and varied facets, meeting other apprentices and sharing experiences and best practice.

The network makes the skills and jobs gains of HS2 tangible, with continued investment in future talent helping to address the UK’s skills gap and also ensure we have a highly skilled workforce in place to deliver not just HS2 but also major infrastructure projects of the future. More widely, investment in apprenticeships will support research and development, and facilitate productivity and competitiveness for UK plc in the longer term.

This is a significant investment by HSRG, highlighting how important and tangible the industry considers benefits accrued from a network designed to develop long-term relationships and cross-industry partnerships.

For the apprentices on our network this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on the biggest infrastructure project in Europe. The scale, geography and multi-phase delivery of HS2 means that a broad range of apprenticeships are on offer, with the opportunity to get involved in both the early planning and concept stages, right through to the highly-skilled engineering and delivery activity.

The Hitachi-Alstom High Speed (HAH-S) is a 50/50 joint venture which has been contracted to design, build, and maintain the next-generation of high-speed trains for HS2 – a contract worth approximately £2billion. The joint venture means that 54 trains will be built and maintained here in Britain at the Hitachi Newton Aycliffe and Alstom manufacturing facilities in Derby and at Crewe. This creates a huge opportunity to create exciting new opportunities for apprentices and graduates as well as upskilling and developing current apprentices who are the backbone of other
leading contracts. HAH-S apprenticeships range from Level 2-7 which are spread across an increasingly wide range of business functions such as Engineering, Manufacturing, Maintenance, Finance and Project Management.

Atkins is part of HS2’s Engineering Delivery Partner a team made up of Atkins, Jacobs and Sener. The Atkins/ Jacobs and Sener team are fully integrated within HS2 Ltd in order to drive long term efficiencies across the design and build process. Their role is focused on providing expert engineering and construction management and supporting the transition to the design delivery stage.

Alstom apprentice profile – Sardar, Advanced Manufacturing Apprentice
Currently I am working as a qualified Train Driver and Test Technician on our test track, test driving our trains making sure all the systems are functioning correctly. I am also involved in the process of fixing any faults that are identified during the testing process. Before I started my apprenticeship I was studying at an engineering school doing my level 2 manufacturing engineering. I have always been interested and fascinated by the rail industry, especially how trains are built and how they operate.

I thought getting into the rail industry would be an amazing opportunity to achieve my career goals. When I did my work experience, I really enjoyed it
and wanted to go back and learn how to build trains from start to finish and further develop my engineering skills and knowledge. I wanted to work for Alstom as the company is the leading UK supplier of designing, manufacturing and testing new trains and servicing them.

To join the Alstom group was a massive achievement and honour for me as it’s such a huge company which gives me the opportunities to grow and progress in the company. I am learning new things every day, like communication and teamwork, problem solving and the most up-to-date technical knowledge and skills, all of which make each day different and interesting.

I am lucky to be working with and learning from many talented and experienced colleagues who have spent many years in rail industry. I’m very excited and looking forward to working on the HS2 project with my colleagues to produce and deliver such an iconic and amazing train. After I have finished my apprenticeship I would like to develop my engineering skills and knowledge further and carry on finishing my degree in electrical and electronic engineering, and work towards achieving my career goals.

 

Atkins (SNC Lavalin) apprentice profile – Andrew, Degree Apprentice (Railway Systems and Infrastructure)
I am a multi-disciplinary specialist with core experience in software engineering, systems integration, and solution architecture design. Before I started my apprenticeship I was in education completing A-Levels in computing, product design and maths. I really had fairly minimal knowledge of the specifics of the sector, and specifically of rail – but I did understand that there was a growing movement towards the use of digital technologies to grow and improve, and that really interested me. Since joining the company one of the key things I’ve learnt, which is a very transferable skill, is how to interface and communicate with clients.

I’ve also discovered how to create solutions with a tangible and visible result and impact. Working on the HS2 project I am involved in systems engineering work, where I manage and develop digital architectures, specifications, and requirements. I also develop various digital solutions to support and automate tasks including requirements management, data extraction and document generation. In the future I’d love to continue to grow my knowledge and experience at Atkins, it would be great to apply my knowledge of digital technologies to other projects in the future.

 

 

Balfour Beatty Vinci (BBV) apprentice profile – Blessings, Apprentice Supervisor

In my role, I am involved in the control of Health and Safety, Environment and Quality standards on-site, monitoring performance and making recommendations for improvement. Prior to joining BBV I was studying Politics with Internationals and was also part of the Women into Construction (WiC) group. During my time with WiC, I secured work experience with HS2 Ltd and was able to network and learn from several experts on the project, which led me to this role.

My perception of the industry was that I knew women had jobs within rail and construction but I wasn’t quite aware of all the different roles available to them on a construction site. In joining BBV, I now work with women from almost every discipline in the construction industry and since starting my apprenticeship, I have learnt never to be afraid to ask for help, as everyone is always willing to offer support, and that every day is a learning day. I’ve also learnt to be patient and take advantage of all the training opportunities that are on offer at BBV. The most exciting part of my job has definitely been to get so much exposure to different areas within the project. I am not always at the same location which has enabled me to expand my knowledge on all the different things happening across BBV.

 

Balfour Beatty VINCI is a long-established joint venture for the delivery of critical infrastructure across rail, transport and other iconic projects in the UK and beyond. The companies started working together over 30 years ago. Today, we have teams delivering over 90 kilometres of HS2 in the Midlands as well as, in a joint venture with SYSTRA, at HS2’s Old Oak Common Station in West London. In the Midlands, it is Balfour Beatty VINCI’s job to prepare the final design of the route and build the railway ready for tracks and signalling to be installed. Balfour Beatty VINCI currently has 90 apprentices in its workforce forming more than five per cent of directly employed personnel. In addition a further 54 apprentices are employed across BBV’s supply chain making a combined total of 144 within its total workforce.

Apprentices are developing skills across a broad range of occupations including Quality, Construction Management, Design, Civil Engineering, Materials Testing, Quantity Surveying, BIM, Plant Operations, Environmental Practitioner and Land Drilling. These numbers are set to rise considerably during the course of 2022 in line with the ramp up in the construction programme which will also diversify the nature and scope of apprenticeships on offer to local residents. Balfour Beatty VINCI aims to recruit a minimum of 400 apprentices during its delivery of HS2 at intermediate, advanced and degree levels, particularly in skills shortage areas, ensuring its workforce is equipped to meet the current and future demands of a modern, digitised construction sector.

Deb Carson is Head of Operations at High Speed Rail Group