Skills deficit could hit infrastructure projects

Roadworks on the A1.
Roadworks on the A1.

A new report predicts skills shortages could lead to higher costs and delays for infrastructure projects in the North East, such as the dualling of the A1 in Northumberland.

The report, published by design, engineering and project management consultancy, Atkins, says that infrastructure projects across the country could experience higher costs, delays to projects and damage to the UK economy in the coming years due to a lack of scientists, engineers and technicians.

Currently there is £460billion pipeline of national infrastructure projects to be delivered, with a number of these in the North East, including £144million of Local Growth Fund committed for 11 infrastructure projects, nine Strategic road network projects including dualling the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham and 113 schemes to reduce flood and coastal erosion risk to homes.

Without enough of the right engineering skills to plan and deliver the work until 2021, projects could be delayed, end up costing more and, due to poor decision-making, lead to impacts on delivery quality.

Nick Roberts, Atkins’ chief executive officer, UK & Europe, said: “There is a multibillion-pound pipeline of infrastructure projects to be delivered over the coming years to meet the needs of a growing population and the evolving way we live and work in the 21st century.

“However, all these schemes rely on having the people with the right skills available to deliver them. There is a need for industry, academia, government and institutions to work together more closely now to avoid the consequences for the UK’s infrastructure highlighted in the report becoming a reality.”

As part of the research, Atkins conducted a survey across the UK, focusing on the understanding people have about the contribution of engineers to society and the views of engineering as a career. More than 55 per cent of people surveyed in the North East were unaware of a current shortage of engineers in the UK and 84 per cent had never considered a career in engineering.

The report estimates that government and industry will need to invest £2.5billion in training and development to provide enough skills to meet the country’s infrastructure requirements over the next decade.

Industry is already investing significantly in initiatives across the UK to attract more young people into the profession. More still needs to be done to encourage and inspire more students into engineering careers through elevating and challenging perceptions of the profession in society, with parents and in schools.

The report also profiles the importance of increasing routes into engineering through apprenticeships and graduate schemes along with better collaboration between industry, academia and government.