“It is even more important that we work to secure the future talent needed to deliver infrastructure investment”
If you believe the numerous commentaries across the national media last week, we should by now be celebrating a major boost for infrastructure and construction in George Osborne’s fourth Budget.
Assuming that was the case, it is, of course, very welcome. I have laboured long in this column to point out that only sustained investment in the fabric of the nation’s public and private asset stock will see the UK deliver sustained economic growth.
Such investment is about jobs in the short term and competitiveness, capacity and efficiency in the longer term. It is about investing today to reap value in the future.
But while the words of George Osborne are important this week, it was the words of prime minister David Cameron that really resonated most for me.
“If we are going to succeed as a country then we need to train more scientists and more engineers,” Cameron told visitors to last week’s Big Bang science and engineering fair in London’s Excel. “You have got to get them while they are young.”
The sight of 15,000 school children descending on the companies, organisations, institutions and schools promoting careers in science, technology, engineering and maths at the event was inspiring and scary.
The passion and enthusiasm at the event was tangible. This was no dull, worthy exercise in careers advice. This was about boys and girls between the ages of seven and 19 years old immersing themselves in the joy of creativity, problem solving and communication. This was about inspirational teachers and forward thinking employers.
I got a real sense that, as the students tackled the event and its challenges, there was nothing that they couldn’t achieve; nothing that they couldn’t create. It embodied, I suppose, the true spirit of science, technology, engineering and maths.
Yet there was one blot on an otherwise uplifting day - the distinct lack of representation from the civil engineering or built environment sector other than the ICE consultant Atkins and National Grid.
Where was the rest of the UK’s construction industry? Where were the big spending, high profile and high employing clients that look after our railways, highways, water networks or power supplies?
Given the amount of major tunnelling and high rise construction work going on close to Excel, it was surprising that none of this featured at the show.
The industry really needs to raise its game here. While we win the political debate about infrastructure investment it is even more important that we work to secure the future talent needed to deliver this investment.
The Big Bang fair demonstrates that this talent and passion is there ready for the taking. But it also demonstrates that the competition to secure that talent is huge. The best talent has to be wooed and won.