There is no “skills gap” according to Sir Terry Morgan, chairman of Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, Crossrail.
The UK skills gap has been widely reported in the press; British companies are short of approximately 20,000 engineers and technicians every year and the UK will need 1.8 million more by 2025, according to Engineering UK.
The chairman of Crossrail joined senior representatives from Crossrail 2, Heathrow Academy and EY at Women in Transport’s Autumn Reception to discuss how the transport sector is addressing this challenge for major infrastructure projects now and in the future.
In his keynote speech, Sir Terry stated that he doesn’t agree with the concept of a “skills gap”. In his opinion, the challenge is promoting the opportunity that transport offers for value-added, diverse careers to a wider demographic and tapping into the potential of a greater talent pool.
Crossrail has already gone a long way in creating and showcasing opportunities for young people and women in transport as shown in the BBC series, The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway.
HS2 is opening colleges in Birmingham and Doncaster to train 2,000 students per year helping to create a pipeline of talent and work is underway to establish a network of national colleges.
Crossrail has been widely lauded for its track record on diversity with an ambitious target of 26 per cent for gender diversity in its workforce. But, Sir Terry lamented, this was not ambitious enough!
He applauded new projects that have aimed higher including The Thames Tideway Tunnel with a goal of 50/50 representation.
Michèle Dix CBE, Managing Director of Crossrail 2, stated “Diversity is good for business!”
Women represent 51 per cent of the population in London and 45 per cent are economically active, but there are only 24 per cent women in TfL.
Again the answer, according to Michèle, is making the transport sector more attractive to a wider and more diverse range of people and measures to reduce unconscious bias in recruitment practices.
The 100 years of Women in Transport campaign, launched by TfL in 2014, in collaboration with companies and gender networks across the sector, was highly successful in showcasing the diversity of careers in the transport industry. The campaign has been instrumental in driving the diversity agenda within TfL.
Some of the many measures that TfL has implemented to increase diversity in its workforce include:training in unconscious bias, blind CVs, promoting a friendly environment, changing wording in job applications, flexible working arrangements, placements, spotting and nurturing talent, mentoring, promotion of staff network groups, a Male Allies programme and International Women's Day.
Michèle also emphasised the importance of retaining talent; something that a specific skills taskforce report will seek to address next July.
Karima Khandker, Head of Heathrow Employment and Skills Academy, provided a fascinating insight into the unique challenges of recruiting and developing the skills needed for the airport where over 76,000 people work across a range of roles. It was clear that aligning strategy along with collaboration with local businesses and stakeholders has been key in recruiting and retaining the right people and reaching a more diverse talent pool.
Tricia Nelson, Partner, Transport & Infrastructure at EY, was emphatic about the exciting and diverse opportunities in the transport sector; students, graduates and apprentices are attracted to it. As an industry, we must signpost that it's a brilliant, innovative sector with a great culture.
Tricia highlighted that the caring dynamic so often associated with women is not just confined to women or to parents. Many people can have various caretaker responsibilities and we need to create friendly and flexible work cultures to accommodate those needs to allow us to attract and retain the best talent.
One of EY’s successful initiatives has been a 12 week programme designed to attract women into the workforce after maternity leave or a career break through paid work placements.
It was interesting to note that the solutions and strategies proposed during the discussion target a wide cross section of ages from school children to graduates and apprentices to returners.
Something that the entire panel agreed on was that early years career advice, intervention through career stages and collaboration with industry are all essential in ensuring we have the right people with the right skills to deliver the future of transport.
Our thanks to the panellists for an engaging and informative discussion on this important issue. This event was generously hosted by EY at 1 More London Place.