The European rail supply industry faces several challenges related to skills, ranging from an aging workforce to needing to shape and promote the industry as more dynamic than it currently is perceived as a strategy to attract young people, women and those seeking a change in careers. The rapidly changing environment that railway sector operates demands the swift uptake of new skills and the inclusion of professionals capable of coping with the demands of digitalisation, increasing innovation and the green transition.
STAFFER, the Rail sector’s Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills
Recognising the importance of education and training programmes, UNIFE and its members instigated the creation of STAFFER (Skill Training Alliance For the Future European Rail system), as a European Union-funded endeavour under ERASMUS+. The programme will support the rail sector’s skills overall strategy for the railway sector and develop concrete actions to address present and future competency by assessing instructional courses across Europe to help best adapt them to prepare rail employees at the technician, operations, production, corporate and engineering levels for the years to come.
A wider goal of the project is the further promotion of transnational mobility by addressing human resources conditions that limit its optimal operation. For example, partners are currently working to find solutions to a problem recently referenced by the Commission: an inability of staff on cross-border rail services to communicate with one another as they traverse Member States with different languages. The consortium also believes that it is crucial to develop mobility programmes that are concretely applied to achieve greater employability and careers opportunities. Finally, through STAFFER, we are working on a comprehensive strategy is to address rail vocational training accessibility disparities across the Member States.
UNIFE believes that, by addressing these points, the railway sector will be better prepared to deal with the skills needs of the future. To be successful, alignment between STAFFER’s outcomes and medium-/long-term skills policy is essential. Our association sees bolstering rail professionals’ competencies as a key element in the sector’s continued global leadership and have already begun advocating for follow-up initiatives under the Pact for Skills on behalf of the rail supply industry.
Seeking to attract young people and transitioning professionals to our sector as a means of successfully building the next generation of sustainable, smart mobility solutions, UNIFE and its members have increased their communications outreach to show prospective rail employees the fulfilling career possibilities our industry provides. In 2019, UNIFE and its members launched the “Hop On for Our Planet!” campaign to raising awareness among young people of rail’s green credentials, the sector’s various exciting career pathways that challenged the prevailing public perception of the supply industry and current opportunities with participating companies across Europe.
Going forward, the 2022 European Year of Youth – like the 2021 European Year of Rail – is a potentially impactful initiative to develop joint initiatives that improve the rail supply industry’s image and attract newcomers. UNIFE has been active on a number of initiatives, such as the European Commission’s Women in Transport Platform which will organise the first Women in Rail Award in 2022 to honour the women who have excelled in the railway sector. Acknowledging the lopsided gender balance currently afflicting our industry, rail suppliers have been working to bring more women in our ranks as they currently only represent approximately 20% of the industry’s work force.
For our part, UNIFE utilised its platform during the Year of Rail to call explicit attention to this shortcoming and give voice to the women working to correct it by organising a digital event to discuss the best means of ensuring that skills acquisition programmes match transport’s evolving needs and attract talent capable of developing and deploying the next generation of rail products. As we continue to rectify this underrepresentation, our association sees the European Commission and its sister institutions as essential partners in this effort.
Raising awareness of opportunities in the EU’s rail supply industry
A signatory of the Alliance’s pledge, UNIFE has demonstrated its commitment to the further development and improvement of skills through VET programmes and apprenticeship programmes that serve as essential career entry points. These educational institutions and the early professional guidance they provide are quintessential to equipping Europeans with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) capabilities needed to design, implement and deploy rail products that enable the digital, green transition that underwrites future economic development.