Mega-projects Crossrail and HS2 facing cost hike on skills gap


The Crossrail and High Speed Two (HS2) mega-projects could be “thousands” of engineers short during peak periods of construction, a leading recruitment firm to both infrastructure projects has warned.

The increasingly acute lack of engineering talent in the UK could undermine the Government’s plans of fostering economic recovery on the back of £200bn of infrastructure spending on bridges, rail, roads and even sewage systems.

Keith Lewis, managing director at the UK’s biggest engineering recruitment firm, Matchtech, told The Independent that with so many projects going on over the next 10-15 years, HS2 and Crossrail, would be “hundreds or thousands rather than dozens” down on the engineers it needs.

This would inevitably put up labour costs on what are already eye-wateringly expensive projects. HS2, which will cut London-to-Birmingham train journeys to 49 minutes, is now expected to come in at more than £40bn.  Crossrail’s tunnel link to slash London commuting times, is set to cost £15bn. 

Mr Lewis, whose Hampshire-based company earned £230m last year by placing more than 8,000 engineers into firms like Jaguar Land Rover and projects like building the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers, said: “Clearly, there is a monetary impact with a number of programmes running concurrently. The reality is we have an ageing workforce and the task is how we get more youth into engineering.

“There’s not enough work done on making engineering a career of choice. There is a difference between perception and reality – people still see engineering as being an oily rag and blue overcoat.”

This image has also put off women from entering what is a highly-skilled position that suffers from a desperate gender imbalance. Earlier this year, business secretary Vince Cable highlighted the lack of female engineers as well as an overall shortage or workers in the sector, which he said was “holding back the economy”.

Mr Lewis added there are currently 2,500 vacancies on Matchtech’s website, illustrating that demand for highly qualified engineers is outstripping supply. Worryingly for Crossrail – which is about to enter its heaviest construction phase with up to 14,000 employees at once – and HS2, engineering skills are now more easily transferred between sectors and countries. 

This could mean British engineers move from rail to the resurgent automotive sector or they are enticed by the warmer climes of working on a well-paid project such as the Dubai Metro.

It has been estimated that the UK will need to train nearly 100,000 new engineers and scientists over the next three years simply to replace those who will have retired. Only one-in-10 engineers are women.

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