Rail engineering ambitions for City Region
Guest blog from Simon Carr, Board Member of Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, Managing Director of Henry Boot Construction and incoming chair of the National Federation of Builders.
As a life-long follower of Yorkshire County Cricket, I love seeing my team playing on the front-foot. This style enables the batsman to strike the ball straight and over a long distance. The term front-foot is also often used in business, and it was truly great to see the Sheffield City Region confidently competing this way when Doncaster was selected as the home of the National High Speed Rail College.
As Managing Director of Henry Boot Construction, it is my job to keep track of changes in the industry to make sure that my business has the skills it needs to keep pace. Since starting work at Henry Boot Construction over 25 years ago I have rarely seen a project with so much potential for the construction industry in the North. In its second phase of delivery, the HS2 project is forecast to bring thousands of new jobs and boost local economies by billions.
To compete for business and to be part of the HS2 supply chain in the future, businesses will need to have rail engineering expertise to meet the needs of this £42 billion project. However, at the moment there is a gap between the engineering skills people have in the UK, and the skills that this massive project will need. The skills gap is clear. This is why this new college, dedicated to developing tomorrow’s rail engineering workforce is so important.
Last month, when the Prime Minister announced that Doncaster and Birmingham will be the new home for the National High Speed Rail College, the news was celebrated by supporters from across our region and further afield. The college will be one of the first big investments that Government has made in the project north of Birmingham and the news has busted any doubts over phase two of the project. Our college bid had support from over 200 businesses and individuals, including world leading engineering companies Siemens, Hitachi and TATA, 10 Chambers of Commerce, over 20 Local Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships from across the North.
In Sheffield City Region, we view the national college as the next chapter in the renaissance of the UK rail industry, with Doncaster positioned to be at the centre of this. Doncaster already has some 200 companies employing 6,000 people in the rail sector, including global players like DB Schenker, Volker Rail and Hitachi. The Doncaster brand has been synonymous with pioneering rail projects throughout British history. Visionary rail engineers like Sir Nigel Gresley designed, built and maintained high speed steam engines in the town including the famous Flying Scotsman and Mallard locomotives.
The HS2 college is not only great news for Doncaster and the Sheffield City Region – the benefits will spread to northern areas of the country and into local and regional economies beyond the immediate route. The new college will open up a number of opportunities for strong collaborations between City Regions in Yorkshire and the wider North East.
Our vision isn’t just about capitalising on the opportunities from HS2, but recognising the potential for Sheffield City Region to position itself as a future world leader in rail engineering. When Doncaster opens the new college at Lakeside in 2017, its first students will be part of an elite national college that will deliver UK infrastructure skills for the long-term. The new college will be an economic boon to Doncaster and the wider region – bringing £150m to the local economy annually as the students trained at the college help local rail businesses expand and new businesses move in. It will offer local people, including our school leavers, the chance to gain high-level engineering skills leading to well-paid jobs that will be in high demand for years to come.
The new students will be able work in close partnership with nearby rail businesses, many within walking distance of the college. They will also have opportunities to work with the region’s established university sector, including the Faculty of Engineering, Rail Technology Innovation Centre and the world-class Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at Sheffield University and the Leeds College of Building.
The Sheffield City Region’s long-term goal is for Doncaster to become an international centre of rail engineering excellence – attracting students, staff and investment from around the world. High speed rail is a growing industry internationally, with major projects planned around the world in major markets including USA and China. HS2 will give businesses the opportunity to develop new experience and expertise in the rail sector, which will act as a springboard for further work overseas. High Speed Rail is a growing industry and one in which Sheffield City Region and Doncaster will be on the front-foot.