Heathrow expansion - a recruiter’s perspective

The decision to expand airport capacity in the south east and the thousands of jobs it will create was always going to be good news for the recruitment sector, says Grahame Carter.

The decision on how to enhance the UK’s airport links within the south east was always going to attract a mix of opinions. You’ve got environmental experts assessing which option will have the least effect on air pollution, you’ve got the local communities in West Sussex and Middlesex pointing towards the airport furthest away and you’ve got both airport executives fighting for the investment to improve their lot. From a recruiter’s perspective, the confirmation of a major infrastructure project was always going to be good news.

Firstly, up to 77,000 jobs are expected to be created over the next 14 years. This will include a mixture of technical and non-technical roles. Despite the public consultation and further approvals needed, planning will get underway and further environmental assessments will be conducted to assess the implications of the project on the land and air. As the project progresses, there will clearly be a need for both design and construction work across civil, structural and public health disciplines.

Alongside the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, Heathrow Airport has also committed to create 5,000 apprenticeships over the duration of the project. In a skills-short industry, this injection of apprenticeships is a sure-fire way of establishing a strong talent pipeline for the future.

Job creation is just one benefit. Overall, a new runway at Heathrow is expected to bring considerable economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy, worth up to £61bn per annum once complete. It has been suggested that SME’s may be responsible for 30% of the work, similar to HS2 and Crossrail, which will really boost levels of competition within the infrastructure sector.

Of course, a project of this size and scale will face a number of challenges. The headline part of the project – the runway itself – will be relatively simple to design and construct but managing the transportation, commercial and environmental aspects of the project will be much more challenging. 

From a recruitment standpoint, the UK has a pre-existing talent pool, particularly within the buildings and highways sectors which will be called upon to deliver the project. However, we will undoubtedly need to call on skilled professionals from overseas and with our pending departure from the EU, the project recruiters may struggle to import the qualified engineers that Heathrow needs.

As with any major project, another challenge will be funding. It will be up to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to consult with Heathrow Airport Ltd and airlines operating at the airport on the detailed design and costs to ensure the scheme remains affordable.

Overall, I believe that the expansion of Heathrow is great news for the UK. It will help open up the UK for business through increased trade opportunities, it will bolster the UK’s engineering workforce with thousands of apprentices and it will attract top engineering talent from around the world. 

Grahame Carter is operations director at Matchtech.