Rail Professional catches up with NIS’ Davie Carns to talk rail, skills and a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity for the UK

There’s very few Managing Directors in the UK that can list professional football and Royal Marine Commandos on their CV.

It’s not something Davie Carns, founder of National Infrastructure Solutions (NIS), talks openly about unless pushed, but they are two important phases of his life that have helped shape his approach to business.

The 36-year-old adopted ‘yam yam’ is passionate about people and giving them a purpose having seen first-hand how important ‘education and the ability to work’ was to people on the streets of Afghanistan.

It was a profound life lesson and one he swore he would take with him in his future career away from the military, a career that started as a trainee Works Manager with Amey Colas in 2014 and led to him eventually becoming Associate Director with RSS Infrastructure responsible for their Resourcing Department.

‘There were a few positions in between, and I think it’s fair to just say I was cajoled into the resources role’ joked Davie, who was quick to point out the strenuous and time-consuming nature of such a role, especially in a 24/7 industry such as rail.

He seems remarkably calm for a person who has got a major challenge on his shoulder to help the rail sector find or develop another 120,000 people over the next three to five years.

This huge number, verified by the City & Guilds and the National Skills Academy for Rail, is what is required if the UK is successfully going to deliver the level of transport connectivity it is going to need in the modern world.

‘The demands focus on prestigious projects such as HS2 as well as those closer to our home in Wolverhampton, such as the reopening of Darlaston and Willenhall Train Stations, both of which have been closed since 1965.’

Davie went on to add: ‘The opening of these will service residents and commuters and is a real indication of why connectivity is so important. ‘I see it as ‘once in a generation opportunity’ and the West Midlands is at the very heart of it. There is so much untapped, diverse talent here…we just need to divert it so that it starts looking at rail and civil engineering as great careers to be involved in.

‘My time on tour in Afghanistan taught me so much, but the one thing that will stay with me forever was the desire of local people to better themselves and to have real purpose in their life. Their desire was inspirational, they just needed a route to achieve their potential. I couldn’t give those individuals the platform, but I can give it to local young people and adults.’

Davie, who represented the Welsh national football team at Under 19 and Under 20 level, set up National Infrastructure Solutions to fulfil this ambition, again not taking the conventional route by officially launching at the end of 2020 and in the height of Covid-19.

He wanted to create a training provider that focused on the rail, construction and civils markets and would deliver courses that give individuals the skills an employer is looking for. This could be at an entry level for those seeking to enter the sector, but of equal importance was to support those already in the industry to progress and create sustainable employment for years to come.

From the very start, there was a desire to disrupt the status quo and make everything employer-led from shaping the content of where people could safely learn and practice using industry tools.

This is where the City of Wolverhampton College really came into its own. When I talked through my vision for NIS, the college engaged immediately’ continued Davie.

‘Backed by West Midlands Combined Authority, we have created some fantastic opportunities for people.

‘You just can’t beat that backing and, true to their word, we entered into a strategic partnership with the construction of a new rail training centre at its Wellington Road Campus – the real jewel in our crown and something I am really proud of.

‘This facility is equipped with installation and maintenance equipment to support courses on conventional, high speed and light rail lines.

‘It is also the first in the UK to offer training on slab track systems that are used in the construction of high-speed rail lines, such as HS2, directly adjacent to a conventional rail track for training purposes.’

National Infrastructure Solutions turned over £1 million in its first twelve months and boasts huge industry employers, such as Rhomberg Sersa, Amey Rail and ISS Labour, as early adopters.

Demand for its employer-led services has increased by 300 per cent over the last six months and the firm has responded by trebling its full-time workforce, sourcing local talent that is representative of the city it calls home.

It has trained 300 individuals so far, with 70 per cent of participants going on to find sustained employment.

‘Supporting our learners before, during and after their training is essential’ explained Davie who is adamant that tracking learner journeys is often overlooked across the sector.

NIS will also run free rail training courses for people who are registered as unemployed through a sector-based work academy programme (SWAP). The six-week scheme will offer pre-employment training, on-site work experience and a guaranteed job interview with an industry employer looking to recruit new staff.

Davie concluded: ‘One of our biggest tasks is reaching out to people who wouldn’t normally consider a career in this industry. We need to understand what turns them off and look at ways where we can put that right, whether this is increasing females across industry, college or university leavers or those looking for a new career after the Armed Forces or Emergency Services.

‘We need to offer more than just courses and qualifications. There needs to be a focus on the wraparound support, and we need to ask ourselves the question – what help does this person need to reach their potential? ‘If we get that bit right, combined with industry engagement, outstanding training and access to the specialist training centre, then we may just make the most of this once in a generation opportunity.’