Huge opportunities to redress rail industry imbalance says Transport chair Cllr Kim Groves

4 March 2019

HS2, and Northern Powerhouse Rail and £1 billion of infrastructure investment through the West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund offer huge opportunities for women to break into the construction sector.

That's what Cllr Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, told a Women in Rail conference today in Leeds. Organised by Northern Rail ahead of Friday's International Women's Day, the event was for invited pupils and students from local schools and colleges.


Worldwide centre of excellence

Cllr Groves, who is herself the first woman to take charge of transport policy and planning in West Yorkshire, pointed out that Leeds City Region is developing a reputation as a worldwide centre of excellence in the advanced rail sector.

This is based, Cllr Groves said, on plans by the University of Leeds to develop a world-leading Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration in Leeds, combined with existing regional academic and industry expertise at the University of Huddersfield's Institute of Railway Research.

Supported by £13 million of future funding from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority through the Local Growth Fund, the £26 million Institute will make Leeds City Region a hub for high-speed rail innovation in track infrastructure and dynamics, rolling stock technology and system integration.



And it will create jobs and skills opportunities, and positions the region and the UK as pioneers in modern high speed rail technologies.

The rail industry currently faces skill shortages, Cllr Groves told her audience, but few women are entering the relevant industries and occupations. Around 90 per cent of civil engineers and 80 per cent of construction project managers in Yorkshire and the Humber are currently male, she said.

Women are undertaking just 3 per cent of apprenticeships in construction and 8 per cent in engineering and manufacturing. And proportions of women enrolled on engineering and technology or on civil engineering at Leeds City Region higher education institutions are just 15, and 16 percent respectively.



And the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership - The LEP - is, however working to make inroads into this imbalance, Cllr Groves reported.

As part of the LEP's Enterprise Adviser Network's work to promote more women to engage with the transport sector, a group of Year 11 girls from Spen Valley High School have recently worked with Northern Rail to learn about jobs. They spent a day attending workshops and talks at the Network Rail York training centre and Neville Hill sites to look at the wide range of roles and opportunities available.

Further activities to challenge stereotypes are taking place in the school, Cllr Groves said, and more opportunities for young people to engage with businesses are opening up.



She also mentioned that during 2019/20, the LEP's #futuregoals campaign will aim to inspire and inform the career choices of 250,000, 11 to 19 year-olds, focusing on key skills gap areas including the construction of major infrastructure schemes.

Cllr Groves told the conference that the Combined Authority and the LEP see apprenticeships as key to enabling young people to access good quality employment.

Funded through European Social Fund, the LEP's £9 million Employment Hub will support over 6,000 young people to access apprenticeships and employment. Through the devolved Apprenticeship Grant for Employers, almost 3,000 businesses have been supported to recruit apprentices for the first time.


Better outcomes for young people

Also its Enterprise in Education programme is currently engaged with 175 (86%) of local secondary schools and colleges to improve employer links, careers information and inspiration, and to bring about better outcomes for young people.

This programme has resulted in over 134,000 employer encounters including 37,771 employer encounters for disadvantaged young people, Cllr Groves said.

While schemes such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail with stops in Bradford, Leeds and York represent future prospects opportunities, there are already growing opportunities in the sector.


Apprenticeship opportunities

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has committed over £150 million of investment to transport schemes across Leeds City Region and is keen to encourage apprenticeship opportunities through these schemes where possible.

Work is underway on a £161 million redevelopment of Leeds railway station that includes a new transparent roof for the main concourse, a new platform changes to some existing platforms and track layout and changes to New Station Street outside the station.

There is no reason, Cllr Groves concluded, why women should not be working in all disciplines and at all levels on these schemes.

More and more are, she said, but there is a need to work together across local authorities, schools, colleges and universities, the LEP and the transport industry, to build on this and give women and girls the inspiration, confidence role models and opportunities they need to fulfil their ambitions.

Cllr Groves was speaking at Northern Rail's Women in Rail conference at the Novotel on Leeds Whitehall Quay. The one day event also included an introduction from Northern's Engineering Director and Diversity Ambassador, Ben Ackroyd, a visit to the company's Neville Hill Depot and a session for delegates to define what does your dream employer look like?