Industry talks skills

Delegates at this year’s Highway Skills event heard that the sector must do more to attract people into apprenticeships.

Highway Skills – Delivering a workforce fit for the future, was organised by the National Highways Academy and Highways Magazine, and took place at the London Transport Museum last Thursday (29 September). The aim of the event was to bring together key stakeholders within the industry sector to assess, strategise and collaborate as to how skills can be maximised for the future workforce.

Sir Terry Morgan (pictured), chair of the government’s transport and infrastructure skills strategy and chairman of Crossrail, was the keynote speaker.

During his address which was entitled ‘Defining a skills strategy that meets sector and employer needs’, Mr Morgan described infrastructure as “vital to the well being of the economy.”

Last year the government pledged to create more than 30,000 apprenticeship places across the road and rail industry by 2020.

Morgan told delegates that Crossrail now had 602 apprentices to date, but recognised that more must be done to attract people into apprenticeships across the transport sector.

“How do we grow apprenticeships and achieve the aspiration of 30,000 by 2020?”, he asked delegates. “From next May if you don’t have an apprenticeship programme you will be paying one per cent tax on your payroll through the apprenticeship levy. It’s for employers to bid into that process to ensure they get support for their programmes. There’s a lot of work to be done between now and next May to make sure that we as employers understand how best we can take up the opportunities that the levy will bring.”

The Department for Transport (DfT), alongside its delivery bodies, including Highways England and Network Rail, will now work with their suppliers to ensure apprenticeships are at the heart of contracts which will deliver the government’s multi-billion pound rail and road investment programme.

Depending on the contract, this means suppliers will either create one apprenticeship for every £3 million to £5m of taxpayers’ money spent, or deliver a percentage increase in the number of apprentices employed each year during the lifetime of the contract.

The strategy builds upon the work of major projects like Crossrail, which has used responsible contract arrangements to create hundreds of apprenticeships since construction began in 2009.

“This will challenge the transport sector to do something significantly different to what has been achieved to date,” noted Morgan. “Each transport sector is now committed to achieving their part of the 30,000 apprentices.”

Concluding, Morgan said that the highways industry and transport sector in general must keep delivering key messages to government.

“The message to government is that investment in infrastructure not only creates macro-economic benefits, it also brings about social change.

“In my mind government will continue to prioritise infrastructure providing there’s a bigger prize. It’s the macro impact that will very often keep politicians supportive. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the Autumn Statement, but the signs are that investment in road and rail will continue. Investment will continue provided we can keep the message that as an industry we’re fit for purpose and that not only can we deliver the programme on time and within cost, but that we have the skills to deliver it.”

Other speakers at the event included: Russell Wallis, divisional director, Highways England; Kate Myers, head of skills & employment, HS2; Jonathan Cheeseman, HR business director, Colas; Richard Hayes, CEO, Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE); Graham Candy, HR business partner for transportation, Atkins; George Lee, CEO, Road Safety Markings Association (RSMA); Roger Williams, network & asset manager, East Sussex Highways; Joanne Garwood, central services director, FM Conway; Steve Radley, policy & partnerships director, Construction Industry Training Board (CITB); Gary Schofield – HSEQS & technical services manager, Total.

Look out for a full review of the Highway Skills event in the November edition of Highways Magazine.

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