Tag Archives: National Infrastructure Commission

SkillsPlanner: data for efficiency and growth


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.

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.