12 October 2023 | Our Work | Skills

New report on skills in highways highlights challenges and opportunities facing sector

A report by the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) highlights a range of actions needed to help local councils address skills shortages and increase workforce knowledge.

The skills shortage in the industry is a huge challenge and with local council highways teams coming under pressure to deliver increasing services, the number of professionals required to deliver them is rising.

The Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) carried out an exclusive survey to find out more about activity levels, barriers and the actions that are needed to drive this agenda forward.

This survey was kindly facilitated by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) as a voluntary addendum to its ALARM Survey, carried out in 2023.

The findings are based on analysis by LCRIG.

Key findings in the report showed that:

  • Lots of training providers being used to help officers retain knowledge
  • Many councils have a limited training budget
  • Some council officers struggling to find training which is relevant to their job
  • Industry requires more technical training in the short term
  • High demand for training around preparing for net zero
  • Lots being done to attract future talent into the sector, but more work needed


Accessing and retaining knowledge

The findings of the ‘skills in highways’ report show that whilst a number of councils don’t have problems accessing training and development, 26 English councils ticked a statement that read: ‘My employer doesn’t have a training budget or budget is limited’.

Eleven English councils ticked the ‘I can’t find relevant training for my job’ option, with just two Welsh councils choosing this option and the same number of London councils.

Training is key when it comes to helping highway professionals maintain a level of knowledge that will enable them to do their jobs safely and effectively

There are several providers and key industry groups who are working hard to ensure that operatives can keep their knowledge and skills updated.

Of the English councils that responded to the survey, 53 councils indicated that they have heard of the LCRIG Skills platform, while 28 said they had not.

Twenty-six respondents from English councils indicated that they use LCRIG as their first choice of provider, benefiting from a range of technical seminars, webinars, conferences, and email alerts. A further 15 respondents ranked LCRIG as their second choice with 14 flagging it as their third.

Other providers who were ranked included the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE), Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) and the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT).


Areas of focus

Professionals working in the sector will continue to need skills support and survey participants were asked where the need is greatest.

Those responding were asked to rank where the industry needs most help in the short term and to rank different areas in priority order (1 being highest priority and 8 being the lowest priority).

Of the English councils that responded, 34 flagged the area of technical training as an area where there is a need for the greatest level of support. Four of the Welsh councils selected this as their highest priority, along with 10 of the London councils.

This was closely followed by ‘Preparing for net zero/ decarbonised services’, which 21 English councils ranked as their top choice.

The area of asset management scored highly with 43 English councils giving a ranking of either 1, 2 or 3.


Encouraging new talent

Overall, 91 English councils, 22 London-based councils and 12 Welsh councils all took part in the survey.

As part of the survey, respondents were invited to respond to the following statement via free text: ‘What are you or your organisation doing to encourage the next generation into the sector?’

There were a variety of responses received ranging from ‘We have an apprentice scheme to train up staff.

We also accommodate work experience students from schools, colleges, and university’ to ‘Performance related pay but not a lot else!’.

Apprenticeship schemes and graduate programmes were frequently highlighted as a means to attract new talent.

Kerry Winstanley, Finance and Operations Director at the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG), said: ”There’s no doubt that the skills shortage facing the sector is huge and our report into Skills in Highways highlights some of the challenges faced in this area. But with challenges come opportunities and tackling the skills shortage is something that we are passionate about.

”Since we launched LCRIG Skills (our online training platform) almost 12 months ago, I’ve become more involved in this area. What started as a project to build a simple database to provide a shop window to sector relevant, affordable training, has turned into an opportunity to do so much more to support the skills agenda across the sector. And it is clear from our analysis in this report that this support is needed. We would encourage our members and the wider sector to get in touch with us so that we can further develop the work we are doing around skills to help benefit all.”

Rick Green, Chair, Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), said: “LCRIG’s report rightly emphasises that a greater emphasis on skills is needed to ensure that the highways sector attracts and retains a diverse, motivated, well-trained, and competent workforce and that this is integral to achieving our common aims.

“The local authority responses to LCRIG’s survey, which we were pleased to host via our own Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey, highlight how staff development is impacted by limited budgets – and this chimes with our own findings on the challenges associated with rising budget shortfalls.

“What LCRIG’s findings also make clear, is that greater collaboration between industry and hard-pressed local authorities could help close the knowledge gap, and we look forward to working with LCRIG to help support them in this area.”

The full report is available to view here.