HS2 launches all-female training course

The Balfour Beatty Vinci joint venture (JV) working on HS2 has announced the launch of a women’s only training course to mark International Women’s Day.

The course, called Introduction to Construction, is designed to equip women with the skills and accreditation they need to start a new career in the industry in 6-8 weeks. It will begin in June at South and City College in Birmingham.

The initiative is part of HS2’s efforts to get more women into the rail and construction industries.

Figures released by the mega-project state that 30 per cent of its tier 1 supply-chain workforce were female in 2022/23, compared with a construction-industry average of 14 per cent.

SB3, the Bachy Soletanche and Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering JV working on the project, also announced this week that it promoted a woman to the position of rig driver – a UK first – last year.

Natalie Smith, 44, from Castle Bromwich, previously worked as a forklift truck driver in warehouse operations but was looking for a career change.

A friend of her father worked on HS2 and suggested she contact SB3.

At the time, the JV was recruiting for trainee piling operatives and offering one year’s training with accreditation. Smith was later put forward for further training to progress from rig attendant to rig driver, where she could take charge of the 86-tonne BG33 piling rig and drive 20-tonne steel rods into the ground.

When Smith completed her training course in September 2023, she received accreditation from awarding body the Construction Industry Training Academy, which said she was the first female in the UK to achieve rig-driver status.

She is now leading the piling operation for HS2’s Duddeston Junction viaduct.

Smith said: “Apparently, I’m the first female in the UK to qualify as a rig driver, which makes me feel really proud of what I’ve achieved. On site, I am the only female in the rig team, but it doesn’t bother me, or the lads, everyone is just so supportive.

“My mum can’t believe the huge machines I drive, and my son asks every night, ‘how many holes have you dug today mum?’

“It’s great to be doing something different. To play a part in building this new railway, that will stand for years to come, means I’m part of a moment in history and I love that idea.”

For more information about the all-female course, contact see.team@balfourbeattyvinci.com.

Information on this year’s Inspiring Women in Construction & Engineering Conference & Awards – hosted by Construction News and sister titles New Civil Engineer and Ground Engineering – can be found here