Minister urges a change in attitude towards apprenticeships as passenger transport sector considers how to recruit 182,500 staff over next eight years

New research launched by transport minister Norman Baker last month shows that the passenger transport and travel sector needs to attract a new generation as nearly a third of its current workforce will need to be replaced by 2020.

The State of the Nation research report has been produced by People 1st, the sector skills council for the hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism industries. The report surveyed more than 1,400 UK employers, from all sub-sectors of the passenger transport industry – aviation, bus and coach, rail, taxi and private hire and travel services – to analyse current labour market trends, skills, and education and training needs in passenger transport and travel.

The report showed that low staff turnover rates are resulting in slow recruitment (7% compared to the all industries average of 16%). But with an older than average workforce, the report shows that more needs to be done to attract new people as many employees near retirement age.

According to the report, almost half (49%) of employees in the rail sector are over the age of 45, and this figure rises to 61% in the bus and coach sector.

Brian Wisdom, chief executive at People 1st, warned that with so many people set to leave the industry in the next eight years, the sector needs to be careful not to lose existing expertise.

“Our industries will need to recruit as many as 182,500 people to replace existing staff by 2020,” he said. “But with low levels of recruitment activity, there is a risk that people with the skills and experience to work in our industries will retire without having passed on their knowledge to the next generation of workers.

“As a sector we need to focus our energies on safeguarding this expertise by attracting new people now, allowing them time to train and learn to avoid serious skills gaps in the future. One of the most effective ways to do this is to position passenger transport and travel as great career options.”

People 1st is working with passenger transport employers to help attract new people to the sector and equip them with the right skills. “Training and developing staff is key to retaining existing employees and it is important to provide clear progression opportunities that will encourage more people to join the sector,” said Wisdom.

The People 1st report showed that only 9% of rail sector employers and 13% of bus sector employers took on an apprentice in 2012. Launching the report in front of an audience of passenger transport recruitment training specialists in London last month, Norman Baker said apprenticeships could play a strong role in attracting younger people into the sector and he called for a change in attitudes towards them.

He said: “I deplore the attitude which some people seem to have that apprenticeships are there for those who failed to enter university. That mindset is what’s partly wrong with the way we’ve seen employment in this country I think for some decades now. It’s not the view our competitors overseas take and it’s not the view we should take either.”

Afterwards, Baker told Passenger Transport: “I think we need to value people more, and the skills they’ve got. The fact of the matter is that [with] people who electrify train lines or who provide detailed and competent services to the public in travel information terms, or people who work in booking offices, and people who drive buses and know when they have to intervene to help the passenger – these are actually skills which may look easy but actually they have to be learned, and people have to appreciate that rather more.”

People 1st used the launch event to profile a range of tools that they have developed to help the sector. For example, the ‘Careers that Move’ website, which has been created to promote careers in the passenger transport sector.

Meanwhile, Univ8 is a new online skills and learning platform that offers the passenger transport and travel sector a way to make learning flexible, transparent and transferable.