Rail is at the heart of the EU’s plans to slash transport carbon emissions. Yet the sector is facing a skills shortage that needs to be resolved in order to prosper and meet ambitious net-zero targets.
Hop On For Our Planet has been conceived to address this. The campaign by rail group Unife is aimed at not only attracting more young people from Generation Z to pursue a career in the rail industry, but also retaining them for the long-term.
The initiative coincides with the EU’s drive to make 2021 the European Year of Rail, as well as the European Green Deal that is intended to make the bloc carbon-neutral by 2050.
And the interest is certainly there among 16-25-year-olds to do more to combat climate change. Research has shown that Gen Z is more passionate about environmental issues than any other generation, inspired by leading climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Unife’s campaign seeks to combine this eco-consciousness with the career possibilities the rail sector has to offer. But there are challenges ahead.
“We must face an inconvenient truth. And that is that Europe has a skills shortage in science, engineering and maths – and especially among women. Without this talent, the rail supply industry just cannot deliver on its promise. And that is exactly why the Hop On For Our Planet campaign is so vital,” says BCW account director Jan Kuijken during the campaign’s digital launch event. “The stakes are too high to tolerate the status quo. We need to get Europe’s innovation future on track – and fast.”
Over the next couple of decades, people from Gen Z will start to take positions of global leadership in industry. And as far as the rail sector goes, Gen Z needs to know about career paths now.
Unife’s campaign is not just about attracting future workers from academic routes, it is also about finding talent who may be from vocational backgrounds.
“Working in rail allows you to help give people greener transport options and more access to employment, education and social possibilities. Unife is committed to bringing students training and educational resources needed for a robust next generation of rail employees through our participation in the Hop On For Our Planet campaign and the Erasmus+ funded STAFFER Blueprint for Skills,” says Philippe Citroën, Unife director general.
To start things off, Hop On For Our Planet surveyed 2,000 16-25-year-olds from the six European countries of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Poland. They were asked a series of questions based around the environment and rail industry.
It found that almost 60% of respondents would be prepared to make changes to the way they use transport to help the planet. And more than 50% want extra incentives to use public transport, as well as tax cuts for rail. Meanwhile, 47% agreed that spending needs to increase for infrastructure and related services.
Gen Z also wants well-paid positions with stable employment, alongside feeling as though they are making a positive difference to the environment.
“Salary is a factor that defines whether people will join the sector or the company,” explains Luc Triangle, general secretary of IndustriAll European Trade Union, at the digital launch of Unife’s campaign. “But this is not the only factor; it’s combined with training facilities, with continuous training, with lifelong learning, on the shop floor in the sector, with some mobility that should be possible in the sector in moving forward in your career.”
Mind the gap
Unife’s survey revealed that a career in rail would appeal to a majority of young people who care about the environment. It found 53% were attracted to careers in the rail industry because they were either very or somewhat concerned about climate change.
Therefore, the interest is certainly there for this to be converted into new recruits. And yet the gender pay gap persists.
“We hope that the rail supply sector can be a driver to bridge the pay gap, which is a reality in the industry in Europe – a 16% pay gap between female workers and male workers. So let’s also make sure that we are paying the same salaries to women as men and there is no pay gap in the sector,” adds Triangle.
In the survey, there was a noticeable difference between male and female respondents working in STEM who considered it very or quite important to work for a company with a positive environmental track record. In the survey, 65.5% of males agreed with this, compared with 72.5% of females. If the pay gap is resolved, then it would go a some way towards attracting more female workers to the rail sector.
The skills shortage and lack of female workers also contributed to the involvement of Siemens Mobility in the campaign.
“Since our former CEO Sabrina Soussan was the chairwoman of Unife at the time this campaign was initiated, of course Siemens Mobility wanted to support in shaping and amplifying this campaign together with other Unife members. The background was the current skills shortage in the industry, especially in the younger generation, as well as females,” says a Siemens Mobility spokesperson.
Unife’s campaign is supported by several other leading rail supply companies, all joining forces to make young people aware of all the available possibilities in the sector.
Hop On For Our Planet’s website also features an interactive map, where visitors can find a wide variety of job opportunities with rail industry partners in the six European countries surveyed.
“For young people, climate change is considered to be one of the most important challenges the world faces,” explains a spokesperson from Knorr-Bremse, which is supporting the initiative.
“The rail industry is a key player to achieve the sustainability goals of Paris in Europe. And the industry offers a variety of interesting job profiles for engineers, software developers and other future-oriented careers in various professions. That’s a point not all young people have in mind when they are looking for career opportunities.”
Similar sentiments about how professions align with sustainability are shared by Strukton Rail, another campaign backer.
“The rail industry offers a career ride of a lifetime. Lots of people simply don’t know that there is a fancy world hidden behind the system enabling the train to run. And we are that world. Our sector is leading amazing digital and green transformations, full of challenging opportunities, using the latest data technology, And, when working in the rail industry, you help the world get greener and contribute directly. The rail sector is also a sector with a bright future. Europe, national governments and municipalities are investing in green mobility. Which is rail,” comments a Strukton Rail spokesperson.
Hitachi Rail is also a supporter and reaffirms the sector’s career potential and green credentials.
“The railway in Europe is today the most sustainable mode of transport and meets the trend supported by young generation to combat climate change. The railway industry offers multiple career opportunities to graduates who want to enter a high technological and innovating world driven by digitalisation. Within the railway industry, fully autonomous transport is no longer a dream but a daily reality,” adds a Hitachi Rail spokesperson.