UK infrastructure plan will need ‘colossal’ skills drive
The government’s announcement of a record £650bn investment in infrastructure projects over the next decade will need to be matched by an unprecedented surge in training and recruitment, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).
A mixture of public money, private sector investment and the recruitment of more than 425,000 skilled workers is proposed to deliver the updated Infrastructure Pipeline plan published this week.
Over £30bn worth of social and economic projects are due to be launched this year, according to the Infrastructure and Projects Authority as part of an overall £200bn of work underpinning the government Build Back Better programme.
‘Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030’ lays out a detailed plan that could lead to a surge in new opportunities for apprentices, graduates, and experienced workers with the right skills, according to the Association.
Transport, energy, and utilities will command the largest share of the work, but there are also big plans for social and digital infrastructure between now and 2025.
BESA welcomed the updated plan as a “vote of confidence” for the sector but pointed out that the programme relies heavily on improving productivity through greater use of digital technology and innovation. Increasing use of Modern Methods of Construction will also be crucial as the projects unfold, but all of that will need to be supported by an upsurge in specific skills many of which are currently in short supply, the Association added.
“The current turmoil in our supply chains is a stark reminder of how failing to invest in training and retaining high quality people can undermine the best laid plans,” said BESA’s director of training and skills Helen Yeulet.
“The government’s infrastructure plans are extremely exciting, but will place even greater strain on the industry’s workforce unless accompanied by a colossal push to bring new blood into the sector and upskill existing workers.”
However, competition for skilled staff is expected to continue heating up over the next two to five years and will require employers in construction and engineering-related fields to look closely at what they have to offer.
“People shortages are likely to continue for an extended period,” said Yeulet. “This is not just about Brexit. We have seen a whole shift in the economy, which was accelerated by the pandemic and has led to record pay packages for people working in transport, logistics and hospitality.
“On the plus side, it has also started to redress the balance for many people in low paid jobs and means employers in our sector need to make sure what they are offering is attractive,” she added. “They need to make sure they are treating existing staff fairly and have clear career progression plans in place to entice new people into our sector with the right skills to take us forward.”
BESA said it was seeing encouraging growth in the numbers of young people interested in workplace-based training where they can work towards high level qualifications including degrees via an employer, who offers a guaranteed job at the end.
The rise of technical training including the introduction of T-levels is also helping to promote careers in building engineering and related disciplines giving further hope for the future.
“The current turmoil in labour markets should be something of a wake-up call for many employers,” said Yeulet. “There are a lot of workers who feel undervalued and treated like commodities. Investing in their professional development and rewarding them properly is the best way to demonstrate that their skills are valued.
“Building engineering will play a crucial role in rebuilding the economy and driving us towards a lower carbon future, so it is very important that we don’t undervalue our own product. Ironically, this difficult period could be a great opportunity to leave our ‘low-cost cut price’ culture behind and show clients why the whole industry deserves to be better funded and rewarded.”