hile today’s uncertainties vary, chief among business concerns remains the United Kingdom’s decision to relinquish its membership of the European Union. Its potential ramifications, both challenges and opportunities, will be far-reaching.
After the EU referendum results, countless businesses are scrambling to gain the attention of decision makers. However, those decision makers are currently inundated, with the sheer number of representations making it more difficult to consolidate, understand and address concerns.
Facing UK withdrawal from the EU, firms working in the natural and built environments have been largely frustrated in their attempts to raise concerns, as they function in silos. By forgetting that these concerns are shared industry-wide, businesses are missing a key strength – the ability of the industry as a whole to speak with one voice.
To drive decision-makers to action, businesses must galvanise, as an industry, and face the challenges as a group, with one strong, shared voice. For over 100 years, Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) has been that voice, proudly ensuring that industry concerns are heard and addressed.
Today these concerns centre around uncertainty and confidence in the market, stability of sterling, indecision on major infrastructure project investment and a significant reduction in investment in property sector. However, the biggest concerns remain on recruitment and skills development; key industry challenges that will be intensified by the UK leaving the EU.
The biggest concerns for the industry remain on recruitment and skills development, key industry challenges that will be intensified by the UK leaving the EU
Prior to the referendum our industry faced a rising skills gap, with 2.74m job openings estimated within the next decade alone. As highly skilled individuals are leaving the industry, through retirement or otherwise, we have already been struggling to find the quantity of skilled workers needed for project and business growth.
This may be exacerbated depending on the deal that the UK reaches for EU citizens currently working in the industry, and potential new hires from EU member states, as well as the latent impacts any deals will have on non-EU visa and work permissions.
While it is still possible for the government to ensure continued access to skilled workers, it is equally possible that this will not be guaranteed.
With potentially a greater shortage in the skilled workforce available, skills development and retention of a quality skilled workforce becomes fundamental to the continued success of our industry in the UK, as well as beyond.
Going forward amidst the political uncertainty, if access to skills labour is reduced without plans in place to recruit from a wider diverse talent pool and develop skills, this could leave our industry without the workforce needed to take on future infrastructure projects vital to the UK.
No matter what the various deals to be made by the government, we must as an industry do what we can to mitigate this potential impact on recruitment and skills.
While for years ACE has encouraged businesses to foster a workforce pipeline, now more than ever, businesses must actively engage in plans to encourage individuals to join the industry, continually develop workers’ skills, and retain talent in the industry.
As an industry we must find ways to appeal as a career to the next generation, whether through apprenticeship programmes such as Technician Apprenticeship Consortium , skills development programmes for current staff, reaching out to local schools to expose students to engineering possibilities, or strategies to cultivate diversity. The new government apprentice levy programme, if embraced in a structured and integrated approach, could help to develop future talents for the industry, and ACE will be playing its part is galvanising and industry response to the initiative.
As an industry we must find ways to appeal as a career to the next generation, whether through apprenticeship programmes, skills development programmes for current staff, reaching out to local schools to promote engineering or strategies to cultivate diversity
There are countless ways that businesses can foster a workforce pipeline and for those not already doing so, now is the time to act on improving recruitment and skills development.
Prior to the referendum, ACE activated a plan to provide key industry insights, engage in discussions to isolate vital issues, as well as develop a network to ensure solutions are found and considered by government. This work will continue, providing the industry with a go-to resource and strategic advocacy, so that our businesses will continue to thrive despite the uncertainty ahead.
We invite you to read the latest briefings on our website and to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. ACE is here to help and it is by working together that we will truly rise to meet the forthcoming challenges.
This opinion piece originally appeared in Infrastructure Intelligence.