Please Mind The Gap…

Posted on by Mark Esling

Mark Esling – Business Development Director, Saint-Gobain PAM

A report published by design, engineering and project management consultancy, Atkins, is predicting that UK infrastructure projects, including water, could face higher costs, delays or poor decision making and project delivery as the result of a serious skills shortage.

The study – The Skills Deficit: Consequences and opportunities for UK infrastructure, has looked at the possible adverse effects of a lack of scientists, engineers and technicians in coming years in the water, energy, transport and digital infrastructure sectors.

The report compiles the views of more than 40 experts from infrastructure owners, engineering consultancies and contractors, academia and industry bodies, with a particular focus on how they believed the UK’s predicted lack of skills could impact on the delivery the government’s National Infrastructure Plan, which was updated in December 2014.

This plan, launched by the chief secretary to the Treasury, outlines the government’s strategy for meeting the UK’s infrastructure needs to 2020 and beyond. It aims to provide a strategic approach to infrastructure planning, prioritisation, funding, financing and delivery, with a pipeline of over £460 billion of public and private investment.

This emphasises the government’s commitment to maintaining and developing the UK’s infrastructure and its importance for driving growth, creating jobs and generating the networks that allow businesses and organisations to thrive. However, all these schemes rely on having the people with the right skills available to deliver them.

According to the report from Atkins, one of the main consequences of the unaddressed skills shortage will be a sharp increase in the price we pay to deliver our infrastructure. This will mean that budgets don’t go as far as anticipated, so we either get less of what we need, or we pay more for it.

I believe it’s true that having too few professionals in the industry will result in a harsh increase in wages and as people represent a significant proportion of project costs this is sure to impact all infrastructure sectors.

The lack of skilled people is also sure to have an impact on project timings and delivery, as there just aren’t enough people to complete the jobs required in a timely fashion.

Another point of concern is that this shortage could also lead to inexperienced or under qualified people making critical decisions about our national infrastructure. From the commissioning of work and management of supply chain bids right through to project delivery. This could have a huge impact if not measured and managed correctly.

With the issues the industry is facing due to this lack of skills, it needs to be doing more to attract the next generation of workers, through apprenticeships and employment drives, as well as providing training to update the skills of current professionals.

A report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research highlights that apprenticeships can have a positive impact for any company. They help to make a vital contribution to the economy, boost business productivity and give people the skills they need to get on in the world of work.

So although the industry is struggling with an ageing workforce, providing apprenticeships and training gives people the chance to learn the skills that will make them an asset to the industry.

With more money being spent in the industry and projects and work increasing the economy appears to be recovering, but the shortage of skills is a key challenge and one that may affect this growth in a detrimental way.

In order to keep up, we need to encourage as many people as possible, by raising awareness of the opportunities available, to undertake training in an industry that is set to grow rapidly over the coming years, providing a wealth of exciting opportunities for employees.

If we invest in our workforce and close the skills gap, we can help secure the future of the infrastructure industry.

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