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Delivering the skills our highways sector needs

Equipping the highways workforce with the skills needed to succeed isn’t a perfect science. We’re not just looking at replacing existing skills that we will lose owing to retirements and Brexit, we’re also looking ahead to anticipate what the highways projects of the future will look like. And, in many ways, that future is already upon us.

Automation, digital technologies and greater use of offsite fabrication will inevitably mean that projects will be executed differently, by people with a wider range of skills. 4D modelling and richer asset information are already starting to change the way that highways projects are planned. This revolution will feed through to intelligent assets that deliver more real-time information to road users and operators, bringing with it new demands for greater digital and data management skills.

Leadership is critical if we are to deliver ambitious and technically demanding projects faster and with less investment. Experienced managers will not suddenly materialise to fill the gaps we already have, as well as future ones. Within our business we are becoming better at spotting people with leadership potential and putting in place accelerated development, mentoring and practical support so they can quickly gain experience in a supportive environment.

Beyond what we are doing internally we also seek to work more closely with our customers. We aim to better understand future project requirements and the skills needed to deliver higher value project outcomes.

We are also actively working with our supply chain on digital skills development, for example, with using BIM and real-time project updates. Alongside this, we are opening up our knowledge sharing and process improvement technologies such as the Improvement Opportunity (IO) App and the highly regarded STOP Think! safety awareness cultural programme.

Alongside this, we are continuing to develop graduate and higher-level apprenticeship pathways that bring a wider range of technical and creative skills into our business. Addressing broader issues such as work-life balance and flexible working is also helping us to recruit more widely.

Although change is happening it’s obvious that the pace will have to pick up significantly. Part of the challenge is to help our people to become adaptable so that they see continuous skills development as normal and can be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they become clearer.

The simple truth is that, although we can see some clear trends and challenges, we can’t predict exactly what skills we will need. Adaptability is possibly the most fundamental skills need of all.

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