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At HS2 we believe it’s more important than ever to invest in essential skills

The uncertainty that the Covid-19 pandemic has pressed on us all, at such a fast pace, really demonstrates the value of employers having invested in an essential skills framework.

In times of crisis, it’s the human skills and the ability to be able to stay positive, focused and recognise and support others that really makes the difference.

At HS2 we’ve been able to adapt to the changes we need to make quickly and efficiently in multiple different ways. Major construction works are still taking place at over 80% of our work sites between Birmingham and London, our office-based staff are supported in working from home and we’re adapting the way we engage with external partners and the community to hold meetings and events virtually instead of in person.

The ‘Skills Builder’ model helped us to embed an essential skills approach across our education and future talent programmes and we believe that there are clear benefits to widening its use across the organisation. Focusing on the importance of essential skills can really help to build a resilient workforce and being better equipped to adapt to the ‘new normal’ will be increasingly important in the months ahead.

The launch of our Skills, Employment and Education Strategy in 2018 set the direction for how we intend to make a difference. HS2 offers a once in a generation opportunity to upskill the nation and ensure that people who live local to the route, and those from disadvantaged and under-represented groups, are given the opportunity to play their part in delivering this huge feat in British engineering. Our ambitions are high, but they are fast turning to reality.

Major construction of the first phase of Britain’s new railway, between London and Birmingham, is happening and our drive to leave a lasting skills legacy is rapidly taking shape.

At peak, HS2’s construction will support 30,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships. But with an ageing workforce in rail engineering and a significant underrepresentation of women and BAME workers in the UK’s construction sector, it takes a project the size and scale of HS2 to support redressing those balances.

That’s why our commitment to the skills agenda is long-term and why our work begins in primary and secondary schools. Over 15,000 pupils have already taken part in our STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) workshops, which are designed to inspire the next generation to think about what’s possible.

Through curriculum-based activities, which support the STEM agenda, we encourage pupils to work together to succeed using essential skills like creativity, problem solving and teamwork. For primary students, each pupil’s use of essential skills is rewarded, as they collect badges and certificates for engineering and construction-focused tasks they successfully complete using a different essential skill.

Kate explains:

“Harnessing the use of essential skills really helps to inspire young people and support their development. We work with pupils at local schools along the HS2 route to understand the link between the essential skills they are developing and how this links to future careers they may not have thought about before on major projects like HS2.

“Continuing that engagement with young people, through our work experience programmes, mentoring schemes, apprenticeships and attendance at job fares and careers events up and down the country helps us to keep that inspiration alive and support young people into meaningful career pathways to work on HS2, where we continue to invest in their essential skills.”

Recognised essential skills models are embedded into all stages of learning, development and future talent programmes at HS2 Ltd. This encompasses everything from our two-year apprenticeship and graduate programmes, to our work with recognised charities like the Social Mobility Foundation, where HS2 employees actively support high attaining pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop the essential skills needed for higher education and progression into professional careers.

With over 350 apprentices already having worked on the HS2 programme, and recruitment underway for more apprentices and graduates to join us later this year, we recognise and value the importance of investing in young people, bringing them into the business at the early stage of their career and continuing to invest in their essential skills. And as young people will be amongst those most adversely impacted by Covid-19 across education and employment, our ability to continue creating new opportunities for years to come is really important.  

Without doubt, delivering HS2 is of national importance, now more than ever. The drive to rebuild our economy and divert much needed investment and growth into towns and cities in the Midlands and the North will never be greater. And with construction works ramping up and our workforce demands increasing, HS2 stands to play a pivotal role in helping to secure Britain’s economic recovery after Covid-19. Our main works construction contracts, totalling £12bn, have now been awarded and we’re beginning to see the ripple effects of that investment reaching down to our tier two and three contractors and companies across the UK.

As our workforce extends out to thousands of UK businesses through our supply chain, our ability to continue making a difference grows. Our contract terms place skills, employment and education requirements on all successful contractors, so we not only help to create and secure jobs, we ensure the companies behind the contract awards invest in upskilling their workforce, embedding the essential skills framework and delivering community-focused education and employment initiatives to support others. It’s this circle of activity which will ensure that HS2 leaves a lasting skills legacy and creates new opportunities for future generations.


Kate Myers is Head of Skills, Education and Employment at HS2 Ltd

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