Invest in the skills of today for the infrastructure of tomorrow

Invest in the skills of today for the infrastructure of tomorrow

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

Steve Tarr – Managing Director – Major Projects, Balfour Beatty

Meeting the skills need

Meeting the skills need

Over the past few years transport infrastructure has been at the heart of the UK’s gradual economic recovery. With an ambitious pipeline of projects lying in wait, the magnitude of which have not been seen for a generation, a key issue for the roads sector will be its ability to deliver the quantum of skilled professionals needed to deliver on the ground.

A range of major schemes including the Lower Thames Crossing, A303 Stonehenge, Silvertown Crossing and the A9 corridor form an exciting pipeline of vital projects that are likely to apply pressure across the sector for years to come. The National Infrastructure Plan for Skills, which was introduced last year, goes some way towards mapping expertise against this pipeline of projects and serves to inform recruitment strategies in boardrooms across the UK. However many of these projects are likely to draw on similar areas of the supply chain in parallel, meaning an integrated approach to planning is needed that will require government and industry to work closer together in order to develop the necessary skills.

Attracting talent through a variety of different routes will be key to building this enhanced capacity. The Modern Apprentices that industry invests in now will be ready to play a meaningful role on projects in two or three years’ time – precisely when they will be needed most. Recognising this, AECOM has increased its apprenticeship recruitment and will be hiring more apprentices than ever this coming year. Our Apprenticeship Development Programme will include training for specialist skills that we know will be needed to deliver future projects, whilst we are working closely with the Technician Apprenticeship Consortium (TAC) to develop new apprenticeship programmes for high demand transportation disciplines such as transport planning and rail.

There is a danger of course that industry will merely compete for this existing talent, so we need to think differently and more broadly if we are to meet the challenges we face. To achieve success, we need to learn and adapt quickly. Clients look to global companies like AECOM to have a diverse workforce and recognise that innovation in delivery is enhanced by our ability to draw from a wealth of different backgrounds and experiences. By developing a more inclusive culture industry can increase its capacity and performance by creating opportunities that allow the workforce to reach its full potential, which in turn will enable it to better understand and respond to client’s needs. For example, the qualities that servicemen and women possess are hugely relevant to firms working in the built environment. The armed forces are divided into many specialist units that must co-operate to complete highly complex tasks. They are often experienced at motivating others, co-ordinating teams and getting the best out of individuals – all essential traits that are directly applicable to the provision of integrated, multidisciplinary services such as those offered by AECOM.

Increasing capacity is only one aspect of the challenge of course. Equipping an expanding workforce to meet the technical and leadership needs of any future pipeline will require agility and innovation. At AECOM, the development of our online University has provided our workforce with access to over 5,000 courses in 10 different languages. Accessible via a cloud, this virtual campus enables employees to develop their competencies and expertise in facilitated classrooms and at their own convenience.

Companies that are able to think differently, work collaboratively and see beyond their own immediate resourcing needs, stand to gain a lot.



Dave Beddell

Dave Beddell – European market sector leader for Strategic highways, AECOM