10 July 2023 | Innovation | Our Work | Skills

Innovation Festival: Attracting new talent into highways

Young professionals from the highways sector spoke about how the industry could be doing more to attract new talent during a debate on skills at this year’s LCRIG Innovation Festival.

The Innovation Festival, which took place at Newark Showground last week, is an event where products, solutions, new innovations and techniques are displayed and demonstrated over a range of live demonstration sessions. The event provides local authorities with a chance to find out about new innovations from the supply chain that will help to meet their current and future challenges.

Day two of the event started with a session entitled ‘Skills factor: developing new skills and innovation in highways’. LCRIG’s Finance and Operations Director Kerry Winstanley chaired the session and was joined by Jake Rankin, Design Engineer, Dorset Council; Charlie Dunkerley, Apprentice Engineer, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Jack Belcher, Trainee Engineer at Amey Staffordshire; and Allan Milne, Director of Apprenticeships and Employer Engagement at Salford City College Group.

During the debate the panellists talked about a range of topics, highlighting what attracted them to come into the highways sector and what more needs to be done to attract a younger and more diverse workforce into the industry.

Charlie Dunkerley, Apprentice Engineer at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said: ”Making the sector more attractive for younger people by engaging through social media can help. People don’t realise what we do and what we look after. It is about making information easily accessible. We need to get into schools at an age where people are going into college. Lots of people don’t know what they want to do. It would be good to open up these events to people in schools and engage with them. People can then see the different type of things that are happening in the industry.

”Kids grow up with technology. I used to work on the tools before I came into an office setting. I had knowledge of computers so it wasn’t such a big jump. With new tech and innovation in the sector, if we can show kids this then I think it will attract them. If we can get kids more involved and seeing demonstrations then this can really spark ideas.”

Jake Rankin, Design Engineer at Dorset Council, concurred. ”I’ve done a couple of careers fairs. The biggest issue we have in schools is half of them don’t know what civil engineering is. A lot of 16 and 17 year olds don’t know what they want to do. They can be influenced by their parents. We must get people involved in the industry and wider industry engagement and advertising is needed.”

All the panellists agreed that promoting the sector’s role in achieving net zero is a good way of attracting people into the industry and ensuring we create a future generation of highway engineers.

Jack Belcher, Trainee Engineer at Amey Staffordshire, commented: ”The younger generation will be affected by the sustainability of the products that we use. We’re trying to make a difference.”

Jake Rankin added: ”I can directly have an impact on the decarbonsation of a product through its lifecycle. This is the direction the industry is going in. As a society we’re more inter-connected with it and sharing of impact is more accessible. Bringing new skills into the workplace can also allow new perspectives from people who can question ways of working and ways of doing things. We must give these people a voice.”

The apprentices spoke passionately about how the opportunity for progression in each of their respective roles helps drive them forward.

”Progression for me was a massive part in my decision to take on an apprentice scheme,” remarked Charlie Dunkerley. ”There is a stigma about apprenticeships being low paid, etc – but it turned out to be the best thing I ever did. Progression is such a key thing and was the reason I took on the role as I could see a pathway I could take.”

They also spoke about how they enjoy making a difference to each of their communities and having a direct impact on social value.

Jack Belcher said: ”I’m really proud of what I do and enjoy what I do. Within a community people use roads every day. You see projects from start to finish and there is an appreciation of what you do.”

Charlie Dunkerley: ”I enjoy communicating with members of the public. Sometimes people complain, but we do engage and get good feedback. It makes you proud to be doing what you’re doing.”

When asked to sum up what they’d say to someone who is considering a career in highways, Jack Belcher said: ”Don’t just think it is about filling potholes. Don’t feel restricted with what you can do. I was a bit confused with what to do. I wish I knew from a younger age what the opportunities are as I would have joined earlier.”

Charlie Dunkerley said: ”Just go for it. The longer I’ve stayed in the more doors have opened. I’d encouraged younger people to go for it.”

Allan Milne, Director of Apprenticeships and Employer Engagement at Salford City College Group provided an update on the collaborative partnership that has been formed between Salford City College, Salford City Council, and the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) which will see Salford City College offer new Highways Maintenance Apprenticeships. There are 10 places available on the apprenticeship course which has been tailored to meet the specific requirements of a Highways Operative working on the local road network and more information can be found here.

During a chat with LCRIG’s Finance and Operations Director, Kerry Winstanley, Allan said: ”There’s a real need for industry to engage with colleges and for the need for talent. If we do this everyone wins. Young people will be getting the right training, informed by the industry. There has to be a strategic relationship over the long term.

”We must make sure that what we’re doing is relevant to the highways sector. Talent is critical to the sector and it is harder to come by than ever before. We must highlight the positives of a career. It isn’t just a job. We find more than ever that talking to young people about careers is a great way of attracting them.”

He also appealed for the sector’s help in driving forward the apprenticeship initiative which will also see the college working to create a dedicated area within the grounds that will allow the apprentices to fulfil the practical elements of their course.

Can you help?

With limited resources to create this dedicated area, the college is looking for support from organisations and contractors who may be able to donate time or materials as part of their commitment to social value. View the list of materials required here.

To find out more about the apprenticeship programme or to express your interest in helping, please contact Kerry Winstanley at [email protected]

Image source – LCRIG.