As procurement director David Poole explains this week, investment in the nation’s highway network is set to quadruple from the current £750M a year to £3bn a year in the next decade.
Poole says, “upskilling the domestic market” is key to delivering this increased workload and realising the Agency’s long standing aspiration to create an efficient network that provides social and economic benefits across the UK.
As we heard last week, there is already a fear that the promised upturn across construction and infrastructure will over-stretch an under-resourced industry. It is a sad truth that even the most forward thinking firms have found it hard to maintain investment in skills over the last downturn.
It is good news then that the Highways Agency appears to have realised the need to improve the industry’s skills and that it recognises the potential problems its supply chain faces in meeting increasing demand.
It has effectively created a procurement nursery in which smaller firms can engage initially on smaller contracts, build expertise and then move on to bigger deals.
As skills and resources permit, these smaller players should then eventually end up with access to the currently inaccessible major project portfolio, increasing competition and so more bringing more innovation and better solutions for the client.
Whether it works as planned will remain to be seen. But the fact that this client has spent time and effort investing in, and planning, a new way to better support its supply chain and specifically to help grow skills, must be applauded.
Because for all the talk over the last 10 years of efficiency, more for less and procurement reform it is really only with a skilled and properly resourced supply chain that clients can turn economy boosting ideas into reality.
But it is not just about upskilling firms. As you will see in NCE this week, I recently visited the Crossrail Connaught Tunnel project, met the young engineers delivering this complex project and heard about how contractor Taylor Woodrow was investing in their careers.
It quickly became clear that this talented and focused bunch of people had, in their short careers, already benefited from the support and focus offered by their employer.
Drawing parallels with the Highways Agency’s new model, it is clearly this kind of vital talent nursery that the industry must embrace if it is to emerge blooming from the recession.
In the same way that we need small firms to grow, compete with and test the bigger firms, we also must ensure that our young professionals are encouraged to do the same to their elders. We fail to do either at our peril.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor