UK Must Capitalise on Golden Opportunity to Deliver Future-Fit Infrastructure and Build Sustainability Skills

New IEMA report published today outlines the critical challenges and exciting opportunities of the new Golden Age of Infrastructure

Posted on Oct 11, 2017

The UK is in the middle of seeing an unparalleled surge of investment in infrastructure which has the potential to boost the nation’s transition to a sustainable economy says IEMA, but success requires equally radical investment in sustainability skills.

Meeting the UK’s long-term transport, housing and energy needs in a sustainable way requires new kinds of skills to deliver the projects and drive the UK’s international leadership on infrastructure innovation. Getting planning and delivery of projects right means the payback will be infrastructure assets that perform better across their operational lives, facilitate sustainable livelihoods and adapt readily to changing needs. Today, IEMA is calling for collaborative professional, government and private sector focus on upskilling the planning and construction workforce across major projects to capitalise on this “golden opportunity”.

IEMA has today published new research which updates on its now seminal 2014 report, Preparing for the Perfect Storm: Skills for a Sustainable EconomyA Golden Opportunity? Delivering future-fit infrastructure for the UK through enhanced sustainability skills outlines how the UK is in the early stages of what has been called a new “golden age of infrastructure” following the publication of the National Infrastructure and Construction pipeline. This covers a portfolio of 720 projects totalling £500bn of public and private spend. If these projects are planned and executed with long-term sustainability at their heart, they have the power to drive economic growth, boost productivity and improve quality of life. However, the success of the pipeline is currently “precarious” due to the impacts of Brexit and the predicted loss of 47% of skilled EU workers, an ongoing labour crunch and a skills deficit that must be plugged – urgently.

IEMA’s CEO Tim Balcon says that while there is a solid base of sustainability skills across UK infrastructure, which appears to have improved in recent years, it is not yet fully optimised. “Half of IEMA members surveyed are confident that those they work with on major projects have effective sustainability skills. Looking at the bigger picture this means there is a further 50% where the gap remains, and we have a golden opportunity to further transform the profile of the UK’s infrastructure skills base. Government and business must work together to deliver what is urgently needed”.

The report outlines that there are five central challenges facing developers and contractors:

  • Access to skilled workers: There is intense competition for skilled workers and it is estimated that British construction must hire 400,000 people every year between now and 2021 - one every 77 seconds - if it is to meet demand.
  • Forward planning of constraints: The sheer scale of projects underway places added pressure on the need to obtain the right materials at the right time.
  • Complexity of projects: Schemes must grapple with complex issues of consent and budgets to deliver - and the larger the project, the higher the accompanying reputational risk.
  • Collaborative delivery: New ways of working in alliances have emerged, placing new demands on contractors and requiring new skill sets.
  • Political climate: By its nature, long-term infrastructure decisions are vulnerable to short-term politics – something the National Infrastructure Commission is intended to mitigate.

More importantly there is great potential to deliver future-fit infrastructure supported by enhanced sustainability skills which pave the way for successful transition to a sustainable economy, leave a legacy of skills and improved practice, positively transform communities and regions and build a truly ‘agile’ infrastructure.

As part of urgent steps to tackle the skills gap IEMA is working in partnership with other several professional bodies to forge a new Infrastructure Sustainability Skills Charter and further its work on developing a Sustainability Passport Scheme to ensure transferability and consistency of skills as workers move between clients and projects.

Tim Balcon says that working together is key to tackling the issues outlined in IEMA’s report: “Alliance between professions, project leaders, education and training bodies and the Government is the only way to achieve the result the UK needs, and IEMA and our members are excited to be spearheading this collaboration”.

A Golden Opportunity? Delivering future-fit infrastructure for the UK through enhanced sustainability skills is available for free download from here


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