Is HS2 a real career opportunity?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll have heard of the national project that is HS2. This will be the train line linking London and Birmingham with a high-speed network, followed by an addition to North-West England and Yorkshire. The entire project is due to finish by 2033 and set to begin two years from now. The project as a whole has been widely criticised by various campaign groups (such as stopHS2) and has a whole set of problems to deal with if it does fully go ahead. HS2 are currently recruiting for the project; but is it really a fruitful career move when such a large project is surrounded by so much doubt and opposition?

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In 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that HS2 would be going ahead. Since then, the project has been the brunt of huge disapproval. Issues surrounding HS2 include the value of land surrounding the railway (including homes and businesses), loss of wildlife habitats, noise, carbon emissions and more. As well as the environmental impact, there are financial consequences too. Nobody actually knows the final bill of the project which is heavily disconcerting. It has been predicted that the project would cost £50 billion. Would this mean that if the bill is higher than predicted (which is likely) there would be job cuts further down the road?

Protestors of HS2 believe that the money being used would be better spent improving current railway lines or on new plans such as High Speed UK and HS1. What does this mean for job seekers? With the entire project overshadowed by a cloud of uncertainty, it’s difficult to predict how much of a career you’re guaranteed to have with HS2.

On the one hand, you could be in a fantastic long-term job until 2033 – and even then you may stay on to oversee the project depending on your role. On the other hand, you could find yourself without a job within a few years of the project going ahead if things don’t work out financially – but isn’t that a risk with most jobs?

Despite the uncertainty surrounding HS2, there is conviction that something needs to be done to expand the country’s railway. There’s heavy speculation that the West Coast Main Line railway will be at full capacity by 2025. On the other hand, Network Rail claims that stations such as Waterloo, Liverpool Street, Paddington and London Bridge are far busier stations than Euston however, and need to be sorted out rather than updating existing railway lines up and down the country.

There’s also the idea that the Great Central line should reopen – an old railway line that serves most of the stations HS2 would. Since the closure of this line in 1966, houses and towns have been built, meaning there’s an argument that it could be more disruptive than creating HS2.

As for HS2’s own recruiting process, it all seems a little vague. In their pay and benefits section on their website, they offer ‘flexible working hours’ as a perk. In this day and age, flexible working is on the rise and it can be either good or bad news for an employee. As a benefit, employees of HS2 can reportedly choose their own benefits from a ‘menu’ of options, varying from health and wellbeing to lifestyle. There will be basic benefits across the whole board, and employees can choose whether to ‘flex up’ these benefits using the buying method. Arguably this opens a lot of doors for prospective employees. Some of us get benefits that we don’t use (e.g. childcare vouchers) and having the option to have a gym membership instead may seem more attractive. However, is there a minimum amount of benefits you choose? Is the ‘flex up’ option actually worthwhile?

The benefits system is being used in lieu of a higher paying job. HS2 even say on their website that they don’t aim to be a leading payer. Could this be because of the financial uncertainty regarding the cost of HS2?

There’s lots being done for younger people too. 2,000 apprenticeships are expected to be created as a result of HS2, and the government is making plans to create a college which will offer specialised training for such a project.

Is HS2 a safe option? Maybe if you’re starting out in your career, it could be the best choice you’ll ever make – it would be priceless experience and the specialise training being offered is a huge bonus. However, if you’ve already established your career (or if you have qualifications to work on the project but work in a different industry) then maybe HS2 isn’t for you. With brilliant engineers being snapped up by companies who are willing to offer more to their workforce, a gym membership might not make it worth the risk.

HS2 have been invited to comment.

What do you think? Do you currently work for HS2? Send us your thoughts to etj.editor@theiet.org

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