Better jobs, better journeys: Why a more diverse highways industry matters

David Poole, Highways England

David Poole at Highways England talks about why diversity and inclusion is on his list of priorities.

Over the past 12 months, so the six months either side of us becoming Highways England in April, there has been a lot of talk in the industry about opportunity.  And the government’s commitment to a five year capital investment plan has excited many in the supply chain that I’ve spoken to. For me, there’s another opportunity that excites me and I think can be transformational for Highways England and the rest of us in the highways industry: diversity and inclusion.

"We’ve seen how embracing the values of diversity and inclusion, including equality and fairness, has helped organisations in other sectors and I want everyone in the highways business to benefit too."

Attracting a greater diversity of talent into our sector  matters, not because it’s a legal requirement, but because we need more people, to do things differently and to be more productive.  Having fresh perspectives combined with strong existing expertise will bring a new dynamism to the industry. This will help us deliver the £11bn of improvements on England’s major roads over the next five years, the equivalent of nearly ‘two Olympics’ worth of infrastructure spend.

Creating inclusive environments in which everyone can thrive is also essential – people must feel valued, respected and included for their contribution if they are to achieve the high performance we need. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to creating this modern environment which welcomes people from all backgrounds, is representative of the people we serve and celebrates talent.

We’ve seen how embracing the values of diversity and inclusion, including equality and fairness, has helped organisations in other sectors and I want everyone in the highways business to benefit too.

Things are already changing. At Highways England we’re focusing even more on how to ensure our industry is seen as an attractive place to work and we’ll be doing more to engage capable people from all walks of life to help them understand why our sector is a great place to work.

We’ve also been working with the Construction Industry Training Board, the Chartered Institution for Highways Transportation and others in our supply chain to help each other learn from our successes and maximize our efforts. Last month, the Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) toolkit was published and we held an event where we shared our experience and provided advice for others in the industry about how they can get involved.

There’s more to be done and we’re committed to leading in this area. We know the impact that a major modernisation programme can have to businesses, communities and drivers. Let’s build on that.

David Poole is the Commercial and Procurement Director at Highways England. For more information about the FIR event that Highways England held click here and for further information about the FIR toolkit click here.



What is it about industry and diversity? How come people are just waking up to the fact that we ought to be treating everyone with respect? Was this not self evident say 5 years ago? Why suddenly get excited about it now? No I sense industry thinks diversity can solve their recruitment issues. Its clearly not about treating people justly because they're people but for what they can bring 'different perspectives'. This still reduces people to 'a means' to an 'end' rather than 'ends' in their own right. Anyway it won't make much of a difference. Perhaps amongst testosterone intoxicated contractors it might but as a study by Warwick University concludes, its how much you pay that closes the gap between aspiration and reality. We don't live in India or China where there are limited opportunities for profitable employment. We don't all need to study medicine or engineering to gain social acceptance and many diverse employers recognise the value of STEM subjects. In short industry is competing for STEM talent across the whole economy and to be frank... Its losing the competition. If you want the best then you need to pay the best. Engineering is no more or less interesting than many other subjects, in fact maybe it's a little more boring which is why so manys engineering graduates leave for finance. Wow, did you ever consider that finance is more interesting than engineering? Perhaps it isn't but if you want those graduates to enter the workforce as engineers then you need to compete on the key differentiator and that's likely earning power. Hug a hoody doesn't win elections. Tax breaks, investment and professionalism do... Just ask Ed Miliband. If industry wants to win it needs to compete.