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Infrastructure blog

'Securing the talent of the future will not be the same as the past'

25 August 2021

APPGI Chair Andrew Jones says the UK's skills issue is critical, and believes that politics has a role to help resolve it. 

'Securing the talent of the future will not be the same as the past'
Technology is driving a change in the skills needed by the industry. Image credit: Shutterstock

Writing this piece, there are hundreds of thousands of vacancies in the job market and companies closing or reducing service levels because they cannot get enough people. Yet at the same time, there are also hundreds of thousands of people at home because they are still on the furlough scheme. That such a position could exist – and be correct policy - shows how the job market has been turned upside down by the pandemic.

The issue of skills in the workforce has not been so critical for many years. When it comes to the workforce we need, the UK has not been growing its own for many years. That is compounded by restricted international movements from both the pandemic and changing politics. The very nature of the skills required are changing, too.

What is driving the changes of skills?

The changes are driven by technology. We are seeing exciting developments in all areas of the economy. That includes the infrastructure sector, too, of course, but it's a sector with a wide range of technologies and professions within it so that is not surprising.

The area raised with me by businesses more than any other is digital. That is a wide catch all and means different things to different companies. Underlying it is companies sensing there are opportunities available and concern that they are not in a position to maximise them.

One area that interests me is off-site construction. This is not the place to go into the merits of it, but just note that the skills to deliver it are new. Put the background and all these changes together and it is easy to see how the situation is going in the wrong direction.

How does politics affect skills?

Governments of all colours have tried to turn things round, but they have not been successful. We have had a succession of policies, so many and changing so often that it has been hard to navigate.

Consistency is needed. One area where there has been some is apprenticeships. I am a strong supporter of apprenticeships. People who take one are both earning and learning. For companies, they are how you grow your own and the benefits of that are legion. They are a good way to bring talent into a company and then ensure it has the skills needed.

The downside is that it is long-term in impact, when the need is more immediate. I have seen great schemes in the sector and met some very impressive people coming into the industry via the apprenticeship route. Now is the time to consider ramping up schemes.

If there are problems – such as cascading through supply chains or ensuring the framework is exactly what is needed etc – then just say. I have no doubt that ministers will want to help.

The future of skills

The autumn will bring announcements on spending, capital and revenue. We can expect positive news. By that, I mean schemes receiving the go-ahead and ambition shown for infrastructure investment to help tackle our nation’s problems. I know the industry is planning ahead for it. My point is that all planning must increasingly include how to secure the talent of the future and it will not be the same as the past.

  • Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI)