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Monday, May 27, 2024

The migration of skills

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We are all familiar with the concept of exporting goods from the UK, but what about exporting skills overseas? Writes Lawrence Dobie, education and training director at Vital Services Group

In recent years Britain has seen a dramatic increase in skilled and experienced engineers migrating abroad to facilitate the development of projects across the world.

In turn this has given rise to companies overseas recruiting British engineers and trainers because of the severe skills shortage abroad. Skilled UK workers, some with more than 25 years experience, are making the move and taking with them their experience and knowledge to help with complex projects as well as teaching the local workforce the skills they need to deliver contracts now and in the future.

The skills gap is most apparent in the Middle East and Australia. A significant amount of money is being invested in major projects there, and these countries are increasingly recognising the need for a skilled workforce and knowledge frameworks to ensure quality training is provided.

In a recent report, the Saudi Arabian chairman of The Council of Engineers, Arch. Hamad N.A. Al- Shagawi, said there is a shortage of skilled and experienced local engineers in the country, which is hampering the growth and development of the local sector. Of the total 170,000 engineers in Saudi Arabia at present, 140,000 are non- locals*.

The country is now seeking to implement a number of Network Rail standards into its own developments. The Saudis have seen projects delivered successfully in the UK and want to replicate them. Many of our skilled engineers choose to work in Saudi Arabia as the benefits can be great, yet they have to be prepared to work away from family for long periods of time in remote conditions.

Persistent shortage

From having a base in Melbourne, Australia, we know that there has been a persistent shortage of engineers across the country during the last decade. The government there responded to this by increasing the number of engineering places in universities, but due to the rapid development of new projects, we have seen a significant increase of skilled workers migrating down under.

Migration of skills works both ways and, equally, we need to learn from our counterparts in

Europe and harness the skills and expertise they have developed which have ultimately created a more streamlined and efficient rail network than ours in the UK.

The UK’s rail workforce is highly skilled, and the expertise of its engineers is in demand across the world. However, in order to meet the challenges and opportunities that investment in the UK’s rail infrastructure will bring, it’s imperative that we recognise that we also need to learn from other countries and embrace new techniques and skills that will position the UK’s network as a pioneer in the global rail industry.


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