Roads challenge will mean jobs for apprentices and technicians

A Highways Agency lean event last week helped contractors to focus on how to deliver the huge new roads spending programme. David Craik says the key to it is developing the right people.

In recent weeks the Highways Agency has clearly indicated that the planned increase in roads spending should not be seen by the industry as an opening to increase prices. The industry will have to adapt to deliver in a lean and efficient manner.

The Agency’s Lean Event hosted by A-one+ in Pontefract and led by Highways Agency Lean Director Derek Drysdale was key to working out how to make sure we can meet that requirement.

Lean is, as the name suggests, all about efficient working, delivering more with less resource while generating stability in cost and programme. Less resource includes less people and in the current employment market, this point is particularly pertinent as we all enthusiastically move towards a period of sustained investment in roads.

That is not because lean means mean, because we obviously have to reward and encourage everyone in the sector to do the best job they can do, but lean does require that we identify the right person for the right job. Such is the scale of the upcoming investment that we will need to use lean to manage the use of the people we have as efficiently as possible because it is our people resource that is going to be in shortest supply but which will incur highest demand.

It is good to be able to say that the big opportunity we have as an industry, thanks to the new roads investment programme, is in the development of apprenticeship and technician schemes to bring both school leavers, and mature candidates from other areas of work, into our industry.

I started as a Trainee Technician and so did many of my peers and a return to that approach is going to benefit all of us. For the last 30 years there has been a focus on pushing people through university to qualify as CEng. But, when graduates leave University with a Civil Engineering degree and debts of £30,000+, we have to ask ourselves how many graduates are going to follow civil engineering when they leave or are they going to seek higher paid jobs in other sectors which will also be chasing their skills.

Lean is all about having the right people in the right place and in the roads sector the right people are not always the CEngs. Lean will clearly identify the need for technician and apprentice resource in our industry and that is good for us all.

I am looking forward to building on our apprenticeship and technician programmes and seeing a wide variety of people thrive in what is going to be an exciting future for our roads network.

 David Craik is an executive director with Colas