Railtrack database aims to answer skills shortage

Railtrack has had to adopt a computerised personnel database of technical staff throughout the UK rail industry to beat a skills shortage that threatened to delay its track modernisation plans.

The database, which cost £10,000 to set up, currently holds the details of 600 technical staff but there are plans to expand this to 21,000 over the next two years.

Kim James, head of HR for the modernisation project, said the lack of suitably experienced technical staff is a threat to the timely completion of its modernisation of the West Coast main line.

So James and his HR team have developed a computer skills database of employees from across four labour sources. He said there are currently no statistics demonstrating the extent of the skills shortage in the sector.

Railtrack hopes to use this supply database in conjunction with demand statistics to build a monthly national update about technical railway personnel.

It has had to recruit from countries as far afield as India and South Africa to find the right people and has also created 400 jobs specifically suited to highly sought-after technical staff to retain them in the company.

James said, “If we had not done this, we would not complete the project on time.”

The project draws on expertise from US engineering company Parsons Brinkerhoff, the engineering company Harris, Franklyn and Andrews and agency consultants.

James said, “We looked through various models, including those from Harvard Business School but found the project was so large that none of them were appropriate.”

Railtrack will invest £5.4bn in upgrading the line, which is the busiest stretch of railway in Europe, serving 16 million people.

It claims the programme is the largest-ever investment in a single transport project, which aims to cut journey times from London to Edinburgh and enable the line to carry tilting trains travelling at 140mph by 2005.

By Richard Staines

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