News

Skills focus vital whatever the General Election outcome, warns Treasury

Treasury reiterates plans for post-Election National Infrastructure Plan for Skills as infrastructure demand builds pressure on industry’s resources.

The engineering design and consultancy profession must focus attention on training and retaining the best staff to ensure that the UK has the skills needed to maintain and deliver the world-class infrastructure set out in the National Infrastructure Plan, Treasury warned this week.

Having established a £466bn pipeline of infrastructure projects, including long term funding programmes across rail, roads, water and energy, industry had to embrace the opportunity to invest in skills, innovation and a whole life vision across design.

“You can’t make an investment for 15 years if you still think policy will change tomorrow,"

"We have strong confidence that whatever the outcome of the General Election the focus on infrastructure investment must continue,” Infrastructure UK senior advisor Keith Waller told  business leaders at a briefing held ahead of the annual NCE/ACE Consultants Awards. 

“But do we really understand what skills we need and what does that mean for the industry? Are we simply using more of the same skills to deliver the infrastructure of the future?” he asked. 

Waller reiterated the Treasury’s plan that “after the election the first National Infrastructure Plan for skills will be published”, underlining the plan first revealed by chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander earlier this month at the ACE national conference.

Alexander described the NIP skills plan as a bid by Treasury to ensure that the UK has the skills it needs to maintain and deliver world-class infrastructure.

Waller added it was a key priority to get the whole supply chain involved deep in the planning process so that the whole industry was better able to plan its businesses and resource needs.

“We need to build high performing infrastructure assets not cheap construction products – it is about availability, resilience and lower carbon." Keith Waller IUK.

Despite the pipeline of workload there is still concern across the industry over whether or not the promised investment levels will continue across political cycles.

In particular smaller businesses remain doubtful over whether or not there is sufficient security of workload to invest in apprentices or graduate recruitment at the level needed to deliver the NIP.

“You can’t make an investment for 15 years if you still think policy will change tomorrow,” explained one delegate.

ACE chair and Arup director John Turzynski agreed that despite continued prediction that there was a rosy future ahead for the industry, it was critical for industry that it was given greater long term confidence that the current levels of investment would continue beyond five year political cycles.

“We need to learn the lessons of the past – it is more complex than simply a rosy future,” he said adding that the challenge of retaining staff continued.

“There are some wonderful opportunities coming along particularly for people in their 30s,” he said pointing out that failure to invest in the past meant that a the small group of experienced people was now in demand. 

The future of design, delegates at the briefing heard, must be based around a focus on whole life principles rather than just a capital. 

“We need to build high performing infrastructure assets not cheap construction products – it is about availability, resilience and lower carbon,” said Waller. 

“There is still a huge amount of opportunity to bring forward innovation. Moving to BIM level 3 is a clear example. People want to innovate – we must focus on understanding what are the barriers,” he said.