Tag Archives: Open Data Institute

Government industrial strategy light on construction skills

The deadline for responses to the UK Government’s industrial strategy green paper (published on 23 January 2017) passed last week, and it’s been interesting to monitor some of the responses that are now being published (here is what the Open Data Institute had to say, for example).

Little mention of construction

But before we look quickly at two of the responses, what did the green paper set out to do for construction? Well, it mentioned construction just seven times (excluding notes and photo acknowledgements) in 138 pages. And the pressing challenge of construction skills shortages is only fleetingly addressed on page 53:

“There have also been problems with the delivery of schemes. Projects have been delayed by years and provided at excessive cost. There has been improvement in recent years, but the local planning and consent system still remains a contributing factor in some instances. There has also been fragmentation in the construction sector and its supply chain, with businesses often unable to deliver long term investment at large scale. This is combined with shortages in key construction skills.”

However, it does highlight some “acute and urgent skills shortages in key industrial sectors including infrastructure and the nuclear industry”, noting that in some sectors (road and rail, for example) action is already being taken through the creation of sector-specific national colleges. But it highlights:

“… previous efforts by the Government and industry to forecast skills shortages have lacked the accuracy to enable timely and effective action, and that further action could be taken to ensure that we can better identify and address future shortages.” (p.45)

Clearly, we feel these are areas where SkillsPlanner could help, particularly if central and local government, plus industry and training organisations, collaborated better.

Developing skills

The subject of ‘skills,’ on the other hand, is a central theme in the consultation paper. The document discusses ten pillars to its strategy, of which the second is Developing skills:

Developing skills – we must help people and businesses to thrive by: ensuring everyone has the basic skills needed in a modern economy; building a new system of technical education to benefit the half of young people who do not go to university; boosting STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills, digital skills and numeracy; and by raising skill levels in lagging areas.” (p.11)

On these ‘lagging areas’, it points out that we have a shortage of technical-level skills, that we rank 16th out of 20 OECD countries for the proportion of people with technical qualifications, and that we have particular skills shortages in sectors that depend on STEM subjects (p.16). Alarmingly, when, within the next two decades, 90 per cent of jobs will require some digital proficiency, 23 per cent of adults lack basic digital skills.

It also suggests that industry has to help shape qualifications and the curriculum – for technical qualifications in particular – to ensure they are useful to future employers (p.37). Much of the skills strategy reflects thinking already shared in the July 2016 Skills plan (post).

AoC and ICE responses

One of our partners on the SkillsPlanner project is the Association of Colleges (AoC), and its response (delivered jointly with the Open University) to the consultation paper strongly welcomes the focus on developing skills. It calls for:

“a coherent national skills strategy, designed with flexibility to meet individual’s needs and circumstances and those of employers; one that pulls together and builds on the best of what is already out there through collaboration and partnership.”

Given the importance placed on infrastructure in the consultation paper, the Institution of Civil Engineers’ response is particularly pertinent, and in the first of its three key recommendations, puts “demand scenarios” and “foresight on skills needs” right at the heart of future planning:

Regional infrastructure pipelines should be developed to address skills gaps
Realising growth through infrastructure requires improved skills provision. To give a fuller picture of demand scenarios, regional infrastructure pipelines identifying upcoming projects and providing foresight on skills needs, should be put in place.

SkillsPlanner formally launched

SkillsPlanner launch holding slide

SkillsPlanner was formally launched last night (Wednesday 24 February 2016) at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London.

Over 130 industry guests were welcomed by SkillsPlanner programme director Rebecca Lovelace. She then introduced Andy Mitchell, CEO of Tideway, one of our SkillsPlanner partners, who described the challenges of delivering a mega-project under London that will require contributions from 20,000 workers during its design, construction and commissioning. With research suggesting 44% of firms struggling to recruit people with the right skills, he was adamant that the industry needs to collaborate more in order to attract the people it needs to deliver future built assets. He finished with a resounding call to arms:

Tideway Andy Mitchell at SkillsPlanner launch“This is a bold and ambitious two-year pilot…. SkillsPlanner has the potential to link employer demands for skills qualifications and behaviours to a responsive education and training sector who can train the individuals who can and will be the future of our industry. And I really hope this vision becomes a reality over the next couple of years …. let’s see what we can do to make something of this because we do need change. And this is a really exciting opportunity to secure that change….”

Sir Nigel Shadbolt, chair of SkillsPlanner partner Seme4 and co-founder of the Open Data Institute, then described the opportunity that Open Linked Data provides to give greater transparency on industry skills supply and demand, using the Tideway project and London boroughs as illustrations of the potential power of the data-driven platform being developed. “SkillsPlanner is a planning tool, an engine to help us draw conclusions about future skills,” he said. But he twice identified challenges in gathering data:

“The challenges will not be technical. Ultimately, they will turn out to be human, about how far we can persuade collaborators to actually provide data – data that is fit for purpose and that we can move from a very siloed world.”

He continued:

“Whilst we will be able to furnish the technical platform, the real challenge is getting hold of the data, finding out if it has any of the quality attributes we care about, and is it actually categorising the things we care about. Data is often presented to us with the wrong codes or the wrong sets of divisions. Given the modern workforce, it’s collected against categories that seem fit for the 1950s. How do we build dynamic classifications of this workforce? Data should not be fixed – it should be dynamic and vary through time.”

A Q&A session allowed audience members to quiz a panel of experts involved with the project. Issues included how the data might be sourced and verified, how SkillsPlanner could be used by schools to enthuse teachers and parents, and how the industry needs to be more committed to guaranteeing worthwhile jobs and future careers following training.

Reviewing the event today, Rebecca Lovelace said:

Rebecca LovelaceIt was an amazing evening. There was a real sense in the room of people truly understanding the potential of SkillsPlanner and fully agreeing with the principle of open collaboration. The number of emails I have received today committing to supporting SkillsPlanner has been quite simply brilliant.

The number of organisations engaged with the project is a reflection of our belief that SkillsPlanner must be built collaboratively with its future users. If your organisation is interested in collaborating with SkillsPlanner, please do get in touch. It’s a truly exciting time and we will achieve so much more by working together.

Twitter stats SkillsPlanner 24 FebJudging from Twitter (see our Storify stream from the event, and we have more shareable content here), the event created a lot of industry buzz, with many follow-up discussions about how training providers, construction businesses and other industry bodies can get involved, particularly by supplying data. If your organisation would like to contribute to the project, please email skillsplanner@ethosvo.org.

SkillsPlanner: data for efficiency and growth

SP-circular-infographic

SkillsPlanner’s planned use of linked and open data to collate construction skills supply and demand data fits with wider ambitions to make data a driver for economic growth and prosperity.

According to a recent RICS survey reported in the construction trade press (see this Construction Enquirer article, for example), skills shortages are hampering construction projects across the UK. With subcontractors facing rising wage bills, it is becoming more difficult for them to accurately forecast project costs, causing delays to project planning.

And this is not just a short-term problem. Significant skills gaps lasting into the next decade have been identified by research including the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry/KPMG 2014 report ‘Skills to Build’ (PDF here) and the September 2015 National Infrastructure Plan for Skills (PDF here). It is timely, therefore, that the Ethos-led and Innovate UK-funded SkillsPlanner research and development project is now well under way.

What is SkillsPlanner?

SkillsPlanner is an innovative, collaborative, data-powered approach to addressing construction industry skills shortages. Its ambition is to help ensure that the UK has the right people, with the right skills, in the right places, at the right time.

The two-year, £1.3m research and development programme, funded by Innovate UK and the project partners – Ethos, GoodPeople, Association of Colleges, Camden, Islington and Westminster councils, Seme4, Tideway, and University of Plymouth – is initially focused on the London construction sector. However, we intend to develop and expand the project across the UK in the coming months.

Building a data infrastructure

The Ethos-led partnership was successful in the IUK competition, ‘Solving Urban Challenges Through Data’, and was awarded a grant to conduct a Collaborative Research and Development project, which started formally on 1 October 2015. Further project collaborators providing contribution-in-kind include Crossrail and Greenwich council.

SkillsPlanner aims to help industry, employers, councils, trainers and, ultimately, individual workers to collaborate and share data to enable effective planning for future employment needs. It will be based on a cutting edge Linked and Open Data platform that can aggregate, integrate and analyse skills data from a variety of sources to provide a valuable ’real time’ picture of the skills landscape, mapping industry demand against current training provision.

It is particularly fitting that we are using data to supply construction skills fit for our future homes, buildings and other infrastructure.

Data: an “engine for growth and efficiency”

Our world is increasingly data-driven, and government and industry organisations are beginning to adapt to these changes – if we look again at construction, for example, there has been a strong push to get government projects delivered using data-centric building information modelling processes, mandatory from April 2016.

We are also encouraged by initiatives from the Open Data Institute, with whom we have close links – the ODI chairman and co-founder, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, is talking at our SkillsPlanner launch in London on 24 February, and also chairs Seme4, one of the SkillsPlanner partners. The ODI is urging government to consider data as infrastructure that is fundamental to the operation of a modern society and its economy. With the Royal Statistical Society, the ODI wrote an open letter to the chairman of the new UK Infrastructure Commission saying:

“We are not currently treating data as infrastructure. We are not giving it the same importance as our road, railway and energy networks were given in the industrial revolution and are still given now. We risk seeing data only as a tool for transparency when it should also be an engine of efficiency and growth.”

We like this ambition; it fits with Ethos’s culture and with our ambitions for SkillsPlanner. We want this data platform to harness the power of linked and open data and to be scalable and replicable across many industry sectors – improving the match of skills to jobs, reducing unemployment, increasing local labour supply, and enabling training provision to be responsive to industry needs. If we succeed in this mission, then data will be playing a key role in helping to boost our economy.