The Insider: Martin Duffy talks ageing

Martin Duffy

When I say ageing and shrinking, I can forgive those who know me thinking I’m talking about myself, but that’s not the case. What I’m referring to is the UK workforce engaged in delivering the much needed infrastructure that will see our country prosper in the coming years ahead.

The skills shortage has been on our radar in the construction industry for the past few years and during this time I’ve listened to numerous business leaders from within the highways sector talking about their plans to fill the gap.

The 5% Club is a great initiative and a number of suppliers have signed up to this to help them focus on attracting young talent to support the delivery of one of the biggest infrastructure investment programmes I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. But I fear much more needs to be done.

Adding to the resource pressures is of course Brexit and (no matter who comes into government after December 12th) the concern will remain that we will see an ongoing outward migration of EU nationals due to the political uncertainties. So our elders retire, our EU nationals leave but the 5% Club will save the day – I don’t think so!

And it gets worse. We are losing others from the pool because schemes outside the highways sector are luring our people with more attractive propositions which include better remuneration, better work/life balance and greater job security because of the stop/start approach to investment we have become so well known for in highways.

To compound this I’ve witnessed large companies drawing back on their graduate and apprenticeship intake in the past couple of years due to existing workloads and whilst I understand the commercial reasons, it does nothing to help us project the image we want of our industry.

But there are glimmers of hope, pockets of excellence - step up to the plate Tier Twos.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to visit a new training facility on the edge of Solent Airport in Hampshire where a group of regional based civil engineering contractors are ‘taking hold’ of the skills shortage by proactively attracting, mentoring and training new apprentices across the whole range of civil engineering activities.

In conjunction with Fareham College R&W is one of the 11 founding partners and along with Knights Brown they are the only organisations from the highways sector to have been involved from the outset.

The purpose built facility known as CETC (Civil Engineering Training Centre) was funded by the 11 partners topped up by the Solent LEP and will provide youngsters from across the region with the opportunity to receive a blend of theoretical and practical learning that not only provides them with a formal qualification but also makes them work ready the day the leave the college.

The training is delivered with cohorts of approximately 40 trainees over a 20-week period.

Now on Cohort 6 the programme is ‘tried and tested’ and the results are profound. The feedback on the apprentices is glowing and what’s even more remarkable is CETC want to extend the offer to train your apprentices, which will help to generally raise the bar on standards.

There are other examples such as HTM who are a traffic management company based in the heart of Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction and they have developed a training facility that they use not only to train their own operatives but operatives from any other TM company.

Only by collaborating across the highway sector and the construction industry as a whole will we entice suitable numbers into our businesses to deliver on the demanding expectations being set for the next decade. So why not replicate what CETC and HTM are doing right now or simply tap into these well-established training facilities?

So, you know who you are. Are you making the contribution you should be to making the construction sector great again?

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