Crossrail needs 3,000 human moles to construct 42km of tunnels and the woman over there on the right is on the look-out for them. Not easy, as the nearest academy is presently in Switzerland...

Since the £16bn Crossrail project was granted royal assent in July last year, the team behind it has been trying to calculate exactly how many jobs it could provide to the construction sector. The good news for those attempting to dissuade ministers from scrapping the project to save public funds is that the numbers are in – and they’re staggering. The project could provide 70,000 construction jobs throughout its life, with about 14,000 working on the scheme at its peak.

This is pretty handy, given then about 450,000 of the industry’s workers could have lost their jobs by 2010. And the breakdown of the recruitment requirements is especially good news for those working in the craft trades (see the labour requirements II graph).

When Crossrail first modelled its labour requirements it estimated that 60% of the workforce would be directly employed by the supply chain, leaving 40% to be employed on a project basis. But that has changed, and it is estimated that more like 80% of the people needed are already employed – they just need schemes to work on. The graphs show how the staffing requirements of Crossrail will change throughout the project, and, opposite, we speak to Valerie Todd (pictured right), the woman in charge of ensuring that these workers are found – no mean task given the fact that 3,000 people working on the project at its peak will be busy boring 42km of tunnels – and, currently, the nearest academy for training tunnellers is in Switzerland …

Valerie Todd, Crossrail’s director of talent and resources, has to find the staff to build Crossrail. How will she do it?

What steps is Crossrail taking to train people for the project and ensure their safety?

We realised early on that there was a need to train people through a tunnelling academy [to be designed by Capita Symonds and built in Newham, east London] so we can ensure safety standards are as high as possible. All underground workers will be required to have a safety passport, which Crossrail is developing with ConstructionSkills to be linked in with the CSCS card. It will be geared towards working with boring machines, spray concrete and being in confined spaces.

What courses will be on offer at the academy?

Short courses to train people up quickly. We estimate that 1,000 workers will undertake them between now and 2015. There will also be an apprenticeship module that we are developing with ConstructionSkills and the British Tunnelling Society. We expect that to be finished in October.

When will the academy open its doors?

It should start running from spring 2010, with the full offering of courses available by the autumn.

How will Crossrail fund the academy?

Boris Johnson has so far pledged £8m of Crossrail’s budget to it. The hope is that other organisations will also help. We’ve been having positive discussions with the London Development Agency (LDA), which has a responsibility to the academy, about their contribution. There is a need for the academy not just for Crossrail but for the whole construction industry, so why should one company carry the whole burden of setting it up?

Crossrail has pledged to take on 400 apprentices – how will you ensure this happens?

The supply chain working on the project will have training targets written into their contracts.

Will Crossrail be able to accommodate apprentices from the Olympic site who have not completed their training?

We’re working with the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and the London Apprenticeship Task Force (LATF) on this to make sure there are opportunities for those who have partly completed their training. On the Olympics there are a lot of people learning finishing trades, and they need to move on to projects that are at a similar stage of development. Because of the time gap with Crossrail, this project might not be the ideal place, but the NAS and the LATF can place them on the most suitable job.

Crossrail has promised to take on those living in boroughs along the Crossrail route which are some of the most deprived in the UK. But how can they avoid the criticism directed at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA): that workers have been qualifying as local as long as they have a Newham address, even if they have only just moved to the area?

We will ensure we employ people, from the local area that are allowed to work in this country. We don’t want to discriminate against anyone who has the right to work here.

How has the recession changed Crossrail’s approach to recruitment?

Even though there are more people available to work, it is now more difficult to reach those furthest from the employment market.

So how are you trying to reach the long-term unemployed?

To assist our contractors and local people find work, irrespective of whether they are recently unemployed or have been out of the job market for some time, Crossrail is working closely with the LDAto put in place a job brokerage and basic skills training service to assist in finding and creating job-ready candidates for vacancies that will arise on the project in the future. Relay London is the organisation currently used by the ODA for a similar purpose and Crossrail has expressed to the LDA our desire for it to continue that or a similar arrangement for us.