Comment: A skilled workforce means an improved network for all

Highways Reporters

Russell Wallis, Divisional Director, Major Projects, Highways England – discusses the importance of a skilled workforce.

It’s an exciting time to be in the roads sector, and there is a lot of emphasis being placed on Highways England delivering the government’s £15 billion roads investment strategy, which will develop our safe and serviceable network in ways that will contribute to economic growth across the UK.

Although our plans are ambitious, the needs of motorists and delivering better and safer journeys remain at the heart of everything we do.

Our skilled workforce has already completed five major schemes, continues to build a further 11, has added more than 90 lane miles of extra capacity on some of our busiest sections of motorways and supported a sympathetic reconstruction on the A591 in Cumbria after flooding caused extensive damage across the region.

It’s a really exciting time to be in this sector, with many upcoming projects, all of which would be hugely rewarding for any new engineering graduate to be involved in. The Lower Thames Crossing, the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement and the A303 Stonehenge scheme, are just a few of the major ones, which are already attracting a lot of attention.

Growing and building upon the talent in our sector will play a vital part in shaping the future. For us to be in the best position to deliver our ambitious plans, we need to be able to have the support of a supply chain that is reliable at the same time as retaining and growing the skills required within a more diverse workforce.

Our suppliers play a vital part in helping us to deliver this programme. They integrate various specialisms across the sector, bringing knowledge and expertise together, which is something that we recognise during our annual recognition scheme. We encourage all of our suppliers to participate and show what they’ve done to continuously improve and provide better working practices and innovative solutions to place a greater emphasis on safety and customer service for all who use our network.

As a continuing part of our programme of investment in future skills, we must work hard to enhance the existing workforce, ensure that our industry is a more equal, diverse and inclusive place to work. The benefits of this will ensure that our projects meet a wide range of needs, are accessible and will make way for a more sustainable and innovative industry.

To help achieve this we will also invest in apprentices and graduates -  we have committed to contribute to the government’s target of hiring 30,000 apprentices in rail and road by 2020.

Apprentices and graduates play a vital part in us growing our own talent and shaping Highways England into a high performing organisation that has the capability and capacity to deliver during this roads period, the next and beyond 2020.

We are currently recruiting for over 40 apprentices in project management, civil engineering, IT, HR, finance and customer service who are due to start in October, and a further 30 apprentices will be recruited in January.

We are proud of the good progress we’ve made so far, and by 2020 we will be in a position to demonstrate our ability to deliver, whilst being well placed to take on the next roads period. In the meantime, we must be prepared to follow a clear road map – one that takes us to a better, more fulfilled and professionally skilled workforce.


Highway Skills, delivering a workforce fit for the future will bring together key stakeholders within the industry sector to assess, strategise and collaborate on maximising skills for the future workforce. The event is taking place at the London Transport Museum on 29 September. Highways on Fridays readers have been given a discounted rate for the conference of £95 +VAT, just type the discount code HOFSkills at the registration page. You can see the full programme of speakers here.

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