The government’s Rail Minister, Andrew Jones MP, called for greater digital skills and workforce diversity within the rail industry, as he delivered his keynote speech at Railtex 2019.
He attended the second day of the three-day Railtex conference at the NEC in Birmingham, where his speech was delivered as part of the Future Focus Conference set up by the Railway Industry Association (RIA).
According to the Minister, the industry needs to find 50,000 new employees by 2033 in order to adapt to changes in technology, and replace the workers who will retire during that time.
The Rail Minister addressed the fact that the sector is embracing technology and will continue to do so, which is why greater digital skills are required.
He said: “The shape of transport has dramatically changed by digital disruptors. Rail travel is part of a single journey paid for on a mobile phone through a single platform that allows passengers to seamlessly travel from one mode of transport to another.
“If the industry is to continue to thrive it needs to become more nimble and ready to quickly respond to these changes. It’s a world in which the expertise of suppliers will play an increasingly important role and one that holds a wealth of opportunities.”
Digital skills weren’t the only topic on the agenda though; in his speech, the Minister talked about issues such as ‘boom and bust’ funding – something the RIA wants to see an end to – and he discussed the need to address the lack of a visible enhancements pipeline.
A Q&A followed, which addressed many topics, including the environmental impact of diesel trains – something that is ever more important because of the need to reduce pollution.
Darren Caplan is the Chief Executive of the RIA. He gave the Minister a tour of exhibitors and was pleased with the topics discussed in the speech.
He said: “It was great to show the Minister the fantastic products and services the rail supply industry has to offer. From 3D printing to new digital information services, the Minister could see that the rail industry is providing benefits and innovations to UK plc every day.
“It was also good to hear at the RIA Future Focus Conference the Minister addressing rail funding concerns. We clearly need to see ‘boom and bust’ smoothed out in the future, and for the DfT to provide a visible pipeline for enhancement projects in CP6. But we are heartened that the Minister is clearly committed to addressing these issues.”