The outlook for the UK’s infrastructure sector has never been more positive. As the pipeline of major infrastructure projects continues to grow, so too has the importance of sustained infrastructure investment.
However, whilst the need for infrastructure investment is now widely recognised, ensuring that there is a workforce sufficiently skilled enough to deliver it remains a question in need of a good answer.
And Brexit negotiations will only add to this uncertainty.
While politicians pore over the detail, we as an industry urgently need to come together to ensure that we have absolutely the right workforce in place to deliver flagship projects such as HS2, Crossrail 2 and Heathrow’s expansion plans not to mention the unique challenges associated with nuclear new build.
Take our domestic workforce, for example. At Balfour Beatty, our highly skilled teams have helped to deliver huge national icons such as the Olympic Stadium and Crossrail to name just two.
But, like our peers, we continue to see an ever-growing disconnect between the number of skilled workers retiring and the number of young professionals entering the industry.
We are battling a skills gap which remains to be closed and we have a generation of young adults for whom our industry is not as attractive as it needs to be.
For years now, the university route has been touted as the best option for long term career progression. Yet, we now need to be promoting alternative routes into infrastructure which provide not just a stable income but an exciting, hands-on and long term career path.
We should be beating the drum louder for ‘earn and learn’ opportunities such as apprenticeships. It’s good to see initiatives such as the 5% Club, an employer-led organisation whose members commit to striving to achieve 5% of their UK workforce in ‘earn and learn’ positons, gaining traction.
We need to get smarter at advocating just how rewarding our industry is to work in. We need to dispel the myths around a lack of career progression and demonstrate how a career in infrastructure will provide exposure to the latest technologies and promote involvement in delivering some of the most genuinely iconic and important projects that will improve people’s lives.
It is also vital that we retain access to skilled and experienced workers from outside the UK that will be required to deliver our infrastructure pipeline. The evidence shows that we cannot fulfil the projected 250,000+ construction and 150,000+ engineering construction workers that will be required in post by 2020 through the development of emerging talent alone. There is no substitute for skilled and experienced craftsmen that are required in the coming years.
In recent decades, the free movement of labour in the EU has provided access to such skills; skills we often cannot find within the UK alone. With 8% of the UK’s overall construction workforce made up of EU nationals, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, it’s essential that we maintain these crucial ties.
We have over 100 years of heritage at Balfour Beatty fuelled by both home grown and international talent – and we are steadfastly focused on creating a workforce fit for the next 100 years.
As an industry, we face a huge challenge to deliver on the infrastructure promises of the future. This will demand a multi-faceted approach and a basket of solutions. The answer lies in retaining access to global resources whilst at the same time investing in our emerging talent to build a skilled and diverse workforce that is fit for the future and that will help shape tomorrow’s world.
- This year’s Highways UK event at NEC, Birmingham on 8/9 November incorporates Highways People a conference dedicated to how the sector responds to the challenge of developing a strategic talent pipeline. Hold the date and look out for further details over the coming weeks.
Steve Tarr – Managing Director – Major Projects, Balfour Beatty