Philip Delaloye looks at ways to bridge the current generation gap in the UK transport sector, ensuring employees are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to work collaboratively and maximise developing technology

The delivery deadlines of several major UK transport projects in the UK, including HS2, Thameslink and Crossrail, mean we face the reality of a severe skills shortage.

Add in the likes of Hinkley and countless highway schemes, and there are simply not enough qualified workers readily available to fulfil these projects, which are all competing for technical, engineering and manufacturing talent. Filling these jobs will only get harder, with an estimated 24,000 people needed at the peak of HS2 activity in the mid-2020s.

The challenges of the ageing workforce are a key topic for many businesses as they watch some of their most experienced hands retire.

A report in February 2018 from the World Health Organisation revealed that by 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over the age of 60 will nearly double from 12 per cent to 22 per cent1, while more than a third of the UK workforce is already over the age of 50.

The resulting skills gap is an expensive one, with director of strategy at the National Skills Academy for Rail, Shamit Gaiger, totting up the cost to the economy of £1.1bn a year by 2024, before taking into account the effect of Brexit2.

In order to achieve both controlled and sustainable growth, businesses must have a plan in place to ensure that the right people are in the right jobs at the right time.

Movement to Work (MtW), a voluntary collaboration of leading UK employers, believes the 16- to 24-year-old NEET population is ideally placed to help the transport sector, especially given its ageing workforce.

The UK transport industry is highly skewed to the 40-plus age range, with nearly half over 45.

The Department for Transport (DfT) forecasts a skills shortage of 55,000 by 2020, and 40 per cent of the shortfall in the rail sector can be potentially attributed to people retiring2.

Businesses should consider the practical implications of maintaining output levels and increasing productivity in the face of a growing skills gap, while simultaneously being faced with a generation of skilled workers who are set to retire.

The challenges of Brexit, rising inflation and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) compound the challenges employers face.

The solution is three-fold; making the older generation’s skills and knowledge complement those of the millennials (born between 1980 and 2000); Generation X (born between 1960 and 1980) staff receiving the necessary re-training, and instilling traditional skills and workplace values in younger generations.

In general, millennials tend to be more open-minded to change and new ideas, to be more willing to give things a try and to search for solutions. They possess knowledge, skills and potential but sometimes lack workplace experience – and often don’t have that ‘bounceback-ability’.

Meanwhile, the more experienced Generation X can teach them a lot about self-motivation, traditional skills, face-to-face communication and leadership qualities.

Employers need to look at their recruitment strategy to complement and enhance their employees’ collective 31skill-set, while onboarding processes should encourage collaboration across all demographics.

Right now, there is a real war for talent, and, in a candidate-led recruitment market, the engineering and manufacturing industry need to sell themselves that little bit harder. How do employers make themselves more attractive? The disruptive tech industries are a more attractive option for millennials compared to manufacturing, viewing entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos as inspirational role models.

To compete against disruptive tech businesses, simply advertising a job and promoting yourself as a good business is not enough. Millennials want a CV full of ‘cool’ or interesting projects, and evidence that they are fast-paced achievers. The traditional approach of asking ‘why I should employ you?’ will have less impact than outlining the ambition of the business, and asking them to illustrate how they think they can contribute to or shape the future of the business.

Flexible working is also attractive across both ends of the spectrum; the younger generation is more accustomed to the ‘Google’ flexibility model – ‘when do you work best? Work at 3am if you want’ – while for parents and those approaching retirement, part-time may be the most attractive option.

The onboarding process needs to embrace both sets of experience, making the generation gap work to employers’ advantage. The skills shortage won’t go away, so it’s essential that this challenge is tackled and turned into a positive.

Philip Delaloye is senior consultant at Jonathan Lee Recruitment. Jonathan Lee Recruitment has been supplying the engineering and manufacturing sectors with exceptional people for 40 years. With many of its consultants coming from engineering backgrounds, including the automotive, aerospace, defence, manufacturing and electronics sectors, Jonathan Lee Recruitment prides itself on in-depth understanding of the skills, experience and personal attributes required for specialist roles. Jonathan Lee is ISO 9001:2008 accredited and a full business member of the REC.