In some countries around a third of the entire railway workforce is expected to retire in the next 10 years. And despite current high levels of unemployment, according to a PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey, 66% of CEOs say a lack of individuals with suitable skill levels is their largest human resources challenge.
Railways in particular are failing to appeal to young people because of what the UIC's head of expertise development, Ms Nathalie Amirault, says are the industry's "military-like" structures.
She says rail's inability to move away from very hierarchical to more flexible network structures and sell itself as a platform for a "fulfilling and diversified career" is putting off the "millennial generation" who have grown up with technology and social media and demand greater autonomy, flexible career options and more opportunities for peer recognition in the workplace.
Add to this the fact that women make up just 20-30% of the workforce and occupy less than 10% of managerial positions, as well as the relatively poor pay compared with other sectors, and it's no surprise that talented people overlook rail as a career.
In an effort to address this issue, the UIC is aiming to utilise the industry's existing talent and expertise to establish a "global network of railway talents" which will attract and retain the next generation of employees.
The Talent project was launched in December 2012 and the UIC presented progress at its general assembly in December. At its core is the development of a powerful international network of railway experts who possess a deep understanding of business, are multi-lingual, well-known internationally and are ready to interact and exchange information with other network participants.
Specifically the network consists of:
- members of UIC working groups and bodies
- functional executives working in HR, training and international relations
- operational executives from areas including operations, maintenance and engineering
- Interactive Sessions on International Railway Business (Siafi) international alumni
- university professors, researchers and students
- education and training providers in the rail sector, including online course providers, and
- young railway managers.
Amirault says the programme will utilise this network to improve the image and reputation of the railway sector while supporting a new generation of railway managers to work on domestic and international challenges and improve international cooperation. Responses to an online survey on the UIC website helped define the vision for the project and prompted the design of a new interactive online platform which will be introduced in 2014.
"It will be structured around different information and communication spaces, include links to various information and resources, access to international training and education opportunities, and will provide companies with the chance to issue innovation challenges to the network," Amirault says. "It will also offer a space for career development with job postings and information about international management exchange opportunities at various levels as well as international events that will foster networking."
Since the project started, Amirault says the UIC has established links with global universities offering railway education courses, and included a "young researchers" category at the UIC Research and Innovation Awards. It is also supporting the European Commission Transport Research Arena initiative, TRA Visions, which is aimed at university students, and will launch a restructured Siafi in 2014.
"Siafi has been redesigned around a highly practical and collaborative approach to learning," Amirault says. "Each Siafi participant has to work with a team of peers on a real life project relevant to the global railway sector. These projects will be linked to the global network event and other adjacent initiatives."
Work will also take place this year to develop accredited Master and Bachelor of Business Administration (MBA and BBA) programmes in railway and international logistics, and to establish a dedicated event for Talent participants. Amirault says this will connect members beyond the web platform. She adds that the project team is starting to identify alternative and complementary funding models for Talent beyond UIC Global Projects, the current source.
"Developing a sound and stable business model is essential to continue and sustain the network," Amirault says. "It is important to find the right balance between different revenue streams such as corporate and event sponsorships, UIC project funds, subscription fees for specific network services and ticket sales for event participants."
Of course the network is only as strong as its parts and prospective participants are encouraged to get involved. While the online survey is still open at www.uic.org, Amirault says it will be possible to join the network directly when the online platform launches later this year. Young railway professionals can also join the 2014 Siafi training programme, while industry professionals are invited to attend a Talent Project networking event and the official launch which is planned for the second half of 2014.
"Active participation in the UIC working groups is a great opportunity to get involved in the work of the UIC and voice opinions," Amirault says