Rail - Winning the Talent Battle

It is safe to say that the rail industry has entered a new golden age. Ambitious plans for new rail projects are being proposed all over the world as Governments look increasingly to investment in sustainable infrastructure and in particular the rail sector, to solve both their transport and economic issues.

But there is a problem, an ageing workforce combined with a shortage of new talent to replace and further the latest technological advancements, means that for some projects there is only a limited pool of talent available. Soon it could be a case of first come, first served on certain schemes, preventing similar projects from getting up and running even when political support and funding exists.

Collingwood has often talked in the past about the skills shortage, particularly around the lack of engineering talent in the UK, and now with projects such as HS2 and Crossrail this increase in demand for expertise has risen at a significant rate.

The scarcity of skills in the sector is not just a UK issue, however.  With the development of Heavy and Light rail networks in overseas countries we are increasingly seeing adverts for experienced UK Rail professionals to work overseas in the development, operation and maintenance of these networks. Only last week, a recruitment open day was held in London to attract Rail professionals to Saudi Arabia.

So how do companies ensure they are on the winning side of this talent battle? There are two main factors to consider:

Ensure you are prepared to fight – Just like a boxer preparing for his next bout, it’s about surrounding you with the best trainer and continually improving your processes.  So ask yourself:

- Do I have a great ‘trainer’ – a provider/advisor that can give you trusted guidance on how to win talent?
- Am I investing in a process that utilizes experience and knowledge to identify all candidate opportunities, i.e. skilled professionals from other highly regulated industries outside the sector?
- Do I have the same global reach when looking for candidates as my competitors?
- Do I have an effective process in place to attract and seize talent when it is available?

If the answer is no to any of the above, then you are going to be missing out and limiting your chances in the fight.

Know who and how to retain your best people – Demand for talent has created a candidate market (for the right candidates) but we should remember that for most, choosing to leave one employer for another is a big decision.  Even more so if the opportunity is on the other side of the world.  With all our experience we can genuinely say that most decisions are made on far more than just the salary increase.


This is where companies who invest in employee engagement activities have the upper hand. We’ve written a number of articles about the various facets of employee engagement, but on the whole, it’s common sense. 

Employers who invest in retaining their talent truly care about their employees, they help them understand their capabilities and career goals. Provide them with the tools and support they need to improve their performance and in turn a transparent roadmap (rail map) of career destinations available.


It’s also essential that you identify who your talented people are. Assessing these individuals and benchmarking them will allow you to identify future talent, create a career progression framework aligned to your business strategy whilst at the same time incentivising key employees to remain loyal to your organization.

We can’t stress enough how important it is that these two areas are not viewed in isolation but adopted as a joined-up approach to talent management. An employer’s ability to retain is reliant on its ability to attract, engage and assess its talent and vice-versa. 

Can we help?

Collingwood is trusted advisors offering a consultative service, not a sales orientated approach, to talent management. Our core business is based on the attraction, assessment, engagement and transition of great talent. If you need help or advice in relation to any of the areas covered in this article then please get in touch on +44 (0)1829 732374.