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November 29, 2023

Bridging the Gap: Tackling the Looming Rail Skills Shortage

Bridging the Gap: Tackling the Looming Rail Skills Shortage


In a recent revelation, the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) has raised a red flag through its Annual Rail Workforce Survey 2023. The survey sheds light on a concerning and imminent challenge facing the rail industry—the impending skills shortage. Fueled by an aging workforce, a high rate of retirements, and a shortage of younger entrants into the sector, the report underscores the critical need for proactive measures to address this growing crisis. In this article, we will delve into the key takeaways from the NSAR report and explore potential strategies to bridge the gap and ensure the sustained growth and efficiency of the rail industry.

Key Takeaways

  1. Aging Workforce Profile: A significant revelation from the survey is that a third of the rail workforce is aged 50 years or older, with the average age of rail employees standing at 45 years. This higher-than-average age profile signals a pressing need for recruitment and skills development initiatives to replenish the workforce with fresh talent.
  2. Retirement Wave on the Horizon:The survey predicts that a staggering 75,000 people are expected to leave the rail industry through retirement and other forms of attrition. This mass exodus poses a substantial threat to the continuity and operational capacity of the sector, emphasising the urgency of succession planning and skill transfer programs.
  3. Deficits in Crucial Skills:The report highlights deficits in certain critical skills, such as electrification and systems engineering. These shortages have led to unprecedented wage inflation, driving up costs for the industry. Addressing these specific skill gaps becomes paramount not only for cost control but also for maintaining operational excellence.

Addressing the Challenges

  1. Strategic Recruitment Initiatives: To counteract the aging workforce and address the skills shortage, the industry must invest in strategic recruitment initiatives. Collaborations with educational institutions, apprenticeship programs, and outreach efforts to attract younger talent can help replenish the workforce.
  2. Comprehensive Training Programs: Implementing comprehensive training programs that focus on in-demand skills, including electrification and systems engineering, is crucial. This will not only fill existing skill gaps but also contribute to a more versatile and resilient workforce.
  3. Succession Planning and Knowledge Transfer: Given the impending retirement wave, companies need to prioritise succession planning and knowledge transfer programs. Experienced workers can play a vital role in mentoring and transferring their expertise to younger generations, ensuring a smooth transition.
  4. Industry Collaboration: The rail industry, alongside government bodies and educational institutions, should collaborate to create a holistic approach to address the skills shortage. This includes developing industry-aligned curricula, providing financial incentives for training, and fostering a culture of continuous learning.


The NSAR's Annual Rail Workforce Survey serves as a wake-up call for the rail industry to take proactive steps in averting a skills crisis. By implementing strategic recruitment, comprehensive training, and collaborative initiatives, the sector can not only address the immediate challenges highlighted in the report but also lay the foundation for a robust, skilled, and sustainable workforce for the future.

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