Joined up thinking on skills key to success of 'powerhouses' and 'engines'

The vision for the North and Midlands as key economic areas may not be fully realised unless combined authorities in each area coordinate and put competition aside when it comes to growing a workforce that can deliver the planned infrastructure projects and improvements, according to ICE.

In its response to the BIS Select Committee consultation on “powerhouses” and “engines”, the leading engineering body welcomed the drive to boost growth across the Midlands and North of England through investment in its infrastructure, and the creation of bespoke combined authorities which negotiate devolution deals and, by their nature, compete against each other for investment.

But ICE said a more joined up approach was needed on the investment and development of post 19 skills to ensure the North and Midlands as wider economic areas have access to the right skills at the right time. It called for current and future combined authorities to coordinate on skills to create “the widest possible talent pool”, work with local councils, industry and developers to determine skills needs, and communicate the opportunities available to help increase the uptake of STEM subjects in schools.

ICE’s State of the Nation: Devolution report, which will explore the challenges and opportunities of devolving decisions on infrastructure, will be launched in June and is expected to make recommendations on devolution frameworks, investment and set out ways businesses and other stakeholders can get a clearer, overarching picture of the skills needed over the longer term.

Jonathan Spruce, from the State of the Nation: Devolution Steering Group said: “The Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse have resulted from Government’s recognition that investment in infrastructure enables growth, job creation and improves productivity - we welcome this and the progress made so far.

“The emphasis on infrastructure however, means engineering skills are in demand and there is a need to grow a diverse workforce which is equipped to deliver the vast range of projects planned right across the North and the Midlands, and help to drive their success as economic zones.

“Responsibility for investment and development in skills for those aged 19 plus will lie with the individual combined authorities and while it’s right that this is devolved, it is vital that these bodies are not competing with each other on skills. Instead they should work together to create and benefit from access to the widest possible talent pool.

“Our upcoming State of the Nation: Devolution report will look at how we enable longer term planning to meet skills needs, and more effective coordination between all with a stake across government, academia and industry.”

Notes to editors

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a leading source of professional expertise in transport, water supply and treatment, flood management, waste and energy. Established in 1818, it has 91,000 members, 25% of whom are based overseas. ICE’s vision is to place civil engineering at the heart of society, delivering sustainable development through knowledge, skills and professional expertise. ICE has long worked with the government of the day to help it to achieve its objectives, and has worked with industry to ensure that construction and civil engineering remain major contributors to the UK economy.