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Viewpoint: Blazing the Skills Trail

We are all well aware of the challenge facing the UK engineering and construction sectors: it is our job to provide the infrastructure needed to meet future demand for energy, transport and water supply with ever-tightening budgets and stretched resources. Ensuring that we can keep the lights on, heat our homes, provide clean water and travel safely from A to B requires the successful delivery of complex projects involving millions of work-hours and billions of pounds of capital investment.

In the recent Budget, the government promised cash for a series of major projects that will address some of the UK’s infrastructure needs, including Crossrail 2, the High Speed 3 rail link between Manchester and Leeds, and improved flood defences. On projects of this complexity, costs can easily escalate and programmes over-run if they are not tightly controlled, so it is vital that we have a pool of well trained and highly skilled project controllers to keep things on track.

Like many aspects of the engineering and construction sectors, project control has suffered from a shortage of skilled people in recent years. But 10 years ago, engineering and construction employers began working together to resolve this shortage, leading to the launch of the first modern apprenticeship in project controls in 2007. Since then, companies have created and maintained national occupational standards for project controls and developed vocational qualifications. As a result, the profession is gaining in status, and new entrants can be more confident that their career development will include structured training, leading to recognised accreditation.

Around 300 apprentices have completed the Modern Apprenticeship, and a further 100 are currently enrolled on the programme. While this has begun to arrest the skills shortage, much more needs to be done to eliminate it altogether.

The good news is that, following the 2013 Richards review calling on government to improve the quality of apprenticeships and make them more focused on the needs of employers, the government is committed to reaching 3M apprenticeship starts in England by 2020, and has introduced the Trailblazer programme to make this a reality. As a result, employers throughout the oil, gas, nuclear, water, highways and rail sectors have redoubled their efforts and are working together on a project controls technician trailblazer apprenticeship programme that will equip young people with the skills both they and industry need.

The apprenticeship – due to launch in 2017 – will prepare young people for a career in planning and scheduling, cost engineering, estimating and project controls management. It will significantly raise the profile and standing of the project controls profession and attract the bright, young people that are desperately needed to overcome the skills shortage, into the industry to the benefit of UK plc.

Shane Forth is PMO director at Costain, and chair of the project controls technician trailblazer apprenticeship programme working group.


This article first appeared in New Civil Engineer, May 2016