Is Enhancing the Industry Image Enough to Help Tackle the Skills Shortage?

“According to recent reports, there is an estimated £600bn of work waiting in line in the National Infrastructure Pipeline, a well-documented existing skills shortage, plus the prospect of losing up to 8% of the workforce post- Brexit, these are just some of the key reasons behind the announcement of £64M for construction and digital training courses in the UK Government Autumn Budget.
So, that the money side sorted but what about the cultural change within the industry that may hold the  key to sustainable growth and workforce development through long-term talent recruitment and retention?

We cannot afford to let apprenticeships and other trainee programmes decline. Recently there has been a Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) Commitment issued; “Better For Everyone” represents a vital step forward in accelerating transformation of the industry. Welcome news- but we still have a long way to go.

Figures have recently been released by the Department for Education, and these showed a 59 per cent year-on-year drop in people starting apprenticeships across all industries since April, this is a blunt reminder of the measure of the skills challenge for the industry.

Valuing Diversity
There is a growing need to recruit more diverse engineers; the numbers of diverse in engineering still remains undesirably low, with the UK coming in as one the worst rate in Europe- at less than 10%. We continue to see the need for making the industry more attractive and diverse people and then helping them secure roles in leadership positions.

Filling the specialist gap
CITB forecasts show that the industry’s pipeline will require almost 36,000 new workers annually through to 2021, however this will leave grave gaps in specialist areas.
This is not a new problem- we have been talking about the skills shortage for years and there is lots of work going on within the industry to help bridge our widening skills shortage. This includes the Apprenticeship Levy, work by the CITB, FIR to name but a few.

Tomorrow’s talent
Up-skilling is vital for today’s engineers who need broad and agile skills so that they can thrive in a moving technical and digital world.

At Osborne, to help our early-career engineers obtain such skills, we give them the opportunity to work outside the business for approximately 9 months. This gives them a fresh and alternative perspective on civil engineering, and they return as better engineers. Through a long established exchange programme with a select list of design consultancies, our engineers are swapped with one of theirs. Working with top designers, they gain experience not only of the design process but also of BIM, architecture, sustainability, geotechnics and many other design aspects. One of the biggest benefits is the interaction with a new community of engineers and the resulting networks established. In addition, the consultant’s engineers gain invaluable site experience though being placed on one of our projects.

Blurred lines
A blend of skills is important but we do need to help make the image of our industry more appealing to attract and retain people.
Amongst all what may be seen as doom and gloom- this is an exciting industry, with exciting projects and a wide scope for people to develop and flourish. But if we don’t address the skills shortage together, there is a fear that the vision for infrastructure could be hazy.

Mike Todd is the Lead Business Development Manager for Infrastructure at Osborne.

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