Speech

Skills challenge in the new infrastructure age

Road and rail to create 30,000 apprentices in this Parliament.

Introduction

Thank you.

And good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I’m delighted to be here today, and grateful to the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation for asking me to speak about a subject that’s very close to my heart: the unprecedented skills challenge that we face in Britain.

For me, it is the measure of a modern, successful democracy that youngsters from all backgrounds have access to the education, training and job opportunities they need to meet their potential, and succeed in their chosen career.

Achieve that, and we’ll also furnish British industry with the skilled workforce it needs to flourish in our increasingly global economy - today and in the future.

The challenge is very clearly illustrated in transport and requires action now.

Let’s talk specifics.

HS2, for example, will create 25,000 jobs during construction alone – 70% outside London.

So today (21 October 2015) I want to discuss what we are doing to meet these objectives.

And how government is working with industry partners to put skills at the heart of our vision for transport.

Skills legacy

We have a rich transport history in this country.

Our maritime prowess created the first global economy.

We invented the railway.

And we played a leading role in the development of road and air transport.

These ground breaking achievements are often associated with a few brilliant pioneers.

And rightly so.

If it weren’t for the ‘Stephensons’ and ‘Brunels’ of the 19th century, the development of transport in Britain would have looked very different.

But what’s sometimes overlooked is that they also depended on a highly skilled workforce, which was just as important a resource as the coalfields which powered the Industrial Revolution.

But when we stopped investing in transport, we stopped investing in skills.

Skills were no longer handed down to the next generation.

Competitors began to overtake us.

And we’re living with the legacy of that underinvestment today.

Not just on our roads and railways.

But in our workforce too.

History and heritage can only be built upon through investment both in our industry and in people.

At a time when we’ve committed £100 billion to spend on infrastructure, when we’re building Crossrail, Thameslink, Northern Hub, HS2, and when we’re delivering £15 billion to update our roads and motorways, we urgently need to develop a new generation of engineers, surveyors, designers and construction professionals, as well as all the highly skilled people needed to operate the networks once they’re built.

Professional training

The skills shortage won’t solve itself.

We have to solve it ourselves.

First, we are transforming apprenticeships with a commitment to train 3 million apprentices by 2020.

We have appointed Terry Morgan, the chairman of Crossrail, to develop a transport skills strategy, including 30,000 new rail and road apprenticeships in this Parliament.

We are working with suppliers to achieve this, and promoting a culture change that focuses on future need and not just the job in hand.

So when suppliers bid for work, they will also pledge to take on trainees, apprentices and graduates and equip their workforce with the skills it needs for the long-term; we believe it’s better to invest in home-grown talent now, rather than wait and outsource work to international consultants later.

We are also creating institutions to train our future workforce.

The Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy, sponsored by Crossrail for example, has already trained 7000 people.

One example from my visit to TUCA was of a mother whose son had been unemployed for quite some time.

The mother asked TUCA to interview her son.

He is now a cement sprayer with a basic salary of £80,000.

Then there’s the Roads Academy to train future leaders.

Seven Network Rail national training centres around the country.

The National Training Academy for Rail in Northampton.

And the National College for High Speed Rail, which opens in 2017 giving a thousand graduates a year a fantastic grounding in modern engineering and construction.

Diversity

But where will all these students come from?

Simply building new training facilities is only part of the solution.

We need to attract a bigger pool of talent.

And to achieve that, we must make a career in engineering or infrastructure more appealing to a wider selection of youngsters.

To deliver the transport projects I’ve outlined, making the workforce more diverse and inclusive isn’t just beneficial.

It’s imperative.

Without more women, more black and minority ethnic employees, and a workforce that is far more representative of Britain’s population today, we will not succeed.

Diversity is evolving.

It’s certainly not about tokenism or political correctness.

And it’s not just about fairness and equality of opportunity.

It’s about making transport better and relevant to people’s lives in the career choices they make.

It’s about attracting the brightest and best people from all sections of society, whatever your faith, sex, age, skin colour or background.

And it’s about the make-up of the sector reflecting the customer base we serve.

For example, why is it that in 2015, men still make up 94% of airline pilots in this country, 90% of transport and logistics managers, and over 80% of Network Rail staff?

Why is it that transport trails other industries when it comes to diversity of employees?

These are the sort of serious questions we have to ask ourselves.

It is simply not good enough and frankly unacceptable to say certain professions are not attractive to women.

Let’s be honest and ask the question, why?

And more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

And I have some answers.

Women working in the transport industry still complain of unequal pay.

They mention boys’ club cultures in the workplace.

And discrimination over issues such as childcare and maternity leave.

But I think it’s also the way we promote the industry.

We need to explain the social value of what we do.

How transport binds together our society.

How it is the backbone of our economy.

How it helps people get on.

How it ensures businesses function.

How engineers change the lives of millions of people.

From walkways to runways, from bicycles to planes: transport matters.

And we also need to sell the value of engineering qualifications, and how those skills are appreciated by employers across the economy.

So an engineering degree or embarking on an apprenticeship is not perceived as narrowing your future career opportunities, but precisely the opposite; as expanding your choices, and empowering you.

An apprenticeship is as valuable as an academic qualification.

They complement each other.

And it’s open to all.

But to tackle these deeply-held, inaccurate prejudices, we have to go right back to basics, to our primary schools.

As I’ve discovered recently on several visits to schools around the country, girls are put off what they see as a ‘boy’s career’ in engineering at an early stage.

That influences their GCSE choices.

And that’s why less than a quarter of pupils who took A-level Physics last year were girls.

We have to change the image of a career in transport if we truly want to nurture and inspire a more representative, and more skilled and aspirational workforce.

Partnership working

And I must say I’ve been impressed since my appointment as Transport Minister by the many excellent groups working to raise awareness of these issues.

Women in Rail and Young Rail Professionals, for example, which have been working with the Rail Supply Group to promote rail careers to women.

The 100 Years of Women in Transport campaign, supported by TfL, which has established a network of over 8,500 individuals and 260 organisations.

Everywoman, which holds an annual transport awards.

And everyone who contributed to National Women in Engineering Day, when I hosted a summit with female engineers working in rail, aviation and construction, alongside students from London Imperial College.

CIHT toolkit

But the success of all these initiatives depends largely on galvanising the industry to recruit and train the diverse workforce of the future.

That’s why I’m so pleased to support today’s launch of CIHT’s toolkit - ‘Routes to diversity and inclusion’.

It does what it says on the tin.

Here’s a sobering revelation, that “96% of CIHT’s corporate partners have difficulty attracting and retaining people with the right skills they need.”

The toolkit is a fascinating and penetrating analysis of employment practices across the sector, and what can be done to make transport careers more diverse and representative in the future.

I cannot recommend it more highly.

But my advice to industry is this:

Don’t wait.

The time for action is now.

In just two years, we start building HS2.

The procurement process has already started.

And the supply chain is already gearing up to compete for contracts.

But HS2 is only part of a much bigger infrastructure programme that will overhaul the fabric of Britain over the next few decades.

Crossrail, Transport for the North.

From rail stations to airports, across the UK investment is taking place in infrastructure.

So the investment you make in skills today is an investment for tomorrow.

And the investment you make in diversity today is an investment for tomorrow.

We face an unprecedented skills challenge.

The rewards for meeting that challenge will be unprecedented too.

So let’s get out there and grasp the opportunity.

Let’s play our part in inspiring a new generation, reflecting diversity and aspiration, to meet the challenges of tomorrow – to ensure the UK PLC is truly competitive on the global stage.

Thank you.