Tag Archives: HS2

Construction “on a knife-edge”

The latest Construction Skills Network report from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) suggests the health of the construction industry over the next five years is on a knife-edge, heavily dependent of a few politically sensitive infrastructure projects of huge scope, according to new industry forecasts.

Industry fortunes depend on smooth progress for big projects like the £18bn Hinkley Point C and £14bn Wylfa Newydd nuclear power stations, and the £55bn HS2 rail project.

The 2017-2021 Construction Skills Network (CSN) report predicts growth of 1.7% over the next five years, with 179,000 jobs to be created, reports The Construction Index this week.

Arcadis Brexit imageA year ago (read our blog post), before the EU referendum, CSN was forecasting 2.5% average annual growth and 232,000 new jobs needed. After the referendum, CSN downgraded its growth forecast to 2% a year and industry-wide recruitment need to 157,000 (we noted the potential Brexit impact in June 2016, and highlighted the Brexit views of Arcadis in November 2016 too).

The new CSN forecast suggests the fortunes of the post-Brexit construction industry are heavily dependent on the big politically sensitive infrastructure projects starting main works on time as infrastructure represents 45% of all predicted construction growth over the next five years.

Brexit impact

With the UK withdrawing from the EU, job growth in the UK construction industry will be slower than indicated in last year’s report, but construction overall still needs 35,000 new workers every year.

As these projects are particularly politically sensitive, the report makes clear that the forecasts are heavily qualified, making it unclear what weight should be put upon them. “All predictions for the construction sector are made against a backdrop of ongoing political and economic uncertainty. The impact on the construction pipeline of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union is one of the most significant unknowns,” the report says.

Infrastructure key

It adds:

“As wider economic turbulence can affect many parts of construction, the commitment to infrastructure is helpful to the forecast. But, with output growth so reliant on these major projects, any shifting of the goalposts on, for example HS2 or nuclear new build could be felt throughout the industry. If, for example, Hinkley was taken out of the pipeline, total construction output for 2021 would be 0.8% lower than currently predicted. And the reliance on large infrastructure projects means that forecasts, particularly those made over the longer term, are less balanced than in the past.

“However, the changing of the guard at the top of government in the UK has, so far, not affected its commitment to the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan. The government is still pledged to invest over £100 billion in infrastructure by 2021.”

It continues:

“Profitability remains a concern, with the volatility of material and labour costs squeezing margins. The situation is not helped by deteriorating levels of productivity, and there is also the prospect of a potential gap in the labour market resulting from any changes to immigration policy.”

The CSN report shows there will be job opportunities in particular for carpenters (+3,850 per year), electricians and insulators (+2,250), process managers (+2,150) and a range of IT and other technical workers (+5,240).

CITB director of policy Steve Radley said:

“We expect construction to keep defying the economic headwinds, with almost half of its growth coming from Hinkley, HS2 and Wylfa and other infrastructure projects.  These huge projects give our industry a great chance to seize the initiative on skills and start investing in the next generation and upskilling the current one. So it’s vital that we don’t throw this opportunity away by allowing these projects to slip or get squeezed together and worsen the pressure on key skills.”

CITB interim chief executive Sarah Beale said:

“While we are forecasting slower growth for our industry than we were last year, employers will still be creating tens of thousands of new jobs. We will be working with employers to attract new talent into our industry and to train them for rewarding careers in the sector.

“While we have factored Brexit into this forecast, there remain many unknowns to life after leaving the EU. We will be working with our industry to understand what it means for our migrant workforce and what we must do to attract and grow more of our own.”

Adonis may have the body, but does he have a head for skills?


Anyone with half an ear on the UK news over the last few days will know that George Osborne announced that he was investing further in, what he believes to be a critical area of concern for the UK economy – Infrastructure.

The Labour peer, Lord Adonis will be the chair of a new body called the National Infrastructure Commission. An initially confusing appointment as Lord Adonis is a staunch New Labour man but he is passionate about the fact that there must be alignment of planning, economic development and infrastructure as it’s critical not just to the country’s future prosperity but to social justice.

As John McTernan wrote in the Guardian recently: “Adonis knows that new roads, railways and power stations are not just projects in themselves; they are the engine of economic change. They take jobs to people, but they take people to jobs too.”

As Lord Adonis strives to ease the flow of new infrastructure projects through the system, he will be very aware of the huge skills shortages that blight the UK’s building industry. Research published by the Federation of Master Buildings in August 2015 suggests that two-thirds of small and medium construction firms have had to turn down work because they don’t have the staff to carry it out.

For five years Ethos has been creating sustainable solutions to complex challenges like the one facing the construction industry. Ethos is a network of social entrepreneurs and innovators who want to create better and more sustainable solutions to society’s biggest problems. They do this by putting people rather than corporations at the very heart of such challenges, and measure success by looking beyond the economic to consider impact on society and the environment.

So what better challenge for the company to step up to than matching clear and present desires for infrastructure growth to the availability of skills to deliver it?

Ethos’s most ambitious initiative yet, SkillsPlanner, is an innovative approach to solving skills shortages. SkillsPlanner is an internet platform that will allow stakeholders within the industry to share current and future skills supply and demand data, facilitating collaborative planning, training and brokerage to meet the industry’s requirements.

On the same day that George Osborne announced his re-inforced focus on the UK’s infrastructure, SkillsPlanner received final approval of £827k development funding from Innovate UK’s‘ Solving Urban Challenges with Data’ competition.

Ethos is collaborating with over 30 organisations on this initiative including core partners, the Association of Colleges, Camden Council, GoodPeople, Islington Council, Seme4, Tideway, Plymouth University, and Westminster Council.

Together with the ‘Linked Open Data’ technology leader and project partner Seme4, Ethos has launched a two-year £1.3m R&D project focussed on the London construction industry, which needs an estimated 180,000 new skilled entrants to deliver construction projects in the capital and the South East by 2019.

Key projects such as HS2, Tideway and Crossrail, planning authorities, main contractors, supply chains, training providers and industry bodies will share skills supply and demand data.

In simple terms this means that;

  • Skills and Training providers will be able to create demand-led courses and build capacity to know demand;
    • When asked for his comment, Martin Doel of the Association of Colleges said ‘Mastering data sources and being able to analyse this data in a timely manner will be essential for colleges to understand labour market needs and reconcile them with student demand,’
  • Construction companies will be able to benefit from more sustainable availability of local labour;
    • Louise Townsend, Sustainable Business Director at Morgan Sindall and Trudy Langton-Freeman, HR Business Partner at Costain, stated that ‘The skills shortage in the sector is rapidly becoming a serious impediment to the industry’s ability to deliver above and beyond what is expected of it. We must work together as an industry to define and predict the timely provision of these industry-critical skills.”
  • Local authorities will be able to collaborate on the design and delivery of local skills provision;
  • Local job brokerage initiatives will operate more efficiently and effectively.
    • Chris Dransfield of Crossrail sees great potential for SkillsPlanner to, ‘reduce brokerage costs and improve outcomes for all our stakeholders.’
    • There is even the opportunity to focus on future skills, so those needed for the far longer-term sustainability of the industry, as recognised by Alex MacLaren of BIM2050: ‘Highlighting the importance of understanding skills needs in the longer term, the collaborative premise of this new platform, harnessing available data to improve efficiency, awareness and reduce waste, is exactly the innovation we want to see in the future construction industry.’

I asked SkillsPlanner project director Rebecca Lovelace why she was so excited by this and she told us that ‘SkillsPlanner is an Ethos ‘perfect storm’. It demonstrates how a genuinely collaborative approach can create an economically viable solution to a complex urban challenge, resulting in a positive social outcome.’

With innovation like this happening alongside the Chancellor’s announced focus on the importance of the UK’s infrastructure and his appointment of Lord Adonis who has the energy and drive to see it through, maybe, just maybe this time it will work.

Let’s face it, to quote from George Osborne’s speech on the 5 Oct 2015, “Without big improvements to its transport and energy systems, Britain will grind to a halt”.

Let’s not let that happen for our children, families, friends and ourselves.