Why the built environment sector can help transform wider UK skills master planning
We recently produced a white paper on the topic that is based on a simple concept that is familiar to all of us: investment in built assets generates job opportunities. Think of the last time you heard that a particular organisation was planning on building a new manufacturing or research facility, the next statement will undoubtedly focus on the job creation potential of this new investment.
Our hypothesis that early stage planning data is an untapped asset for skills planning has validity because larger scale projects have a longer gestation period before becoming operational, which provides a suitable timeframe for talent to be appropriately upskilled. But if we also look at smaller scale built investment decisions, we can still use this planning data to inform skills master planning if we aggregate this data in real time to accurately forecast demand into the future. On the flip side, and we’re straying into the realms of negativity that we set out to avoid with our research, we can also identify those sectors/industries that are slowing or reversing investment in their built assets and can question what this means for future job prospects and act appropriately.
It's a simple concept, but what became quickly evident was how fragmented and impenetrable UK planning data is to help provide this single source of truth. Even using commercial data from Glenigan, there is no simple way for individuals to quickly access and interrogate information on infrastructure investment. We spoke to several local authorities and agencies that are attempting to do this exercise at a local level, with mixed levels of success, but the point here is that the best of these regional initiatives will merely cannibalise talent from surrounding areas and perpetuate regional inequalities.
Why a sustainable pipeline of appropriately skilled talent is important to the UK is underlined by findings that global organisations currently rank skills above short-term financial incentives as the core motivator for their location strategies. Not only can we serve our own domestic labour requirements, where data from the ONS states that there are currently 1.12M UK vacancies, but we can also help attract inward investment through a UK-wide focus on skills pipeline based on supply and demand.
If we open up planning data to everyone, then we all have agency to use this information to help inform the conversations we have around skills, training and careers.
We independently surveyed 1,000 young people and their parents and carers to understand how they made choices around skills and future careers. We found strong evidence that perceptions of particular sectors/industries strongly informed decision making on academic and training selections. The Covid-19 effect had transformed perceptions on roles in research and science – both parents and young people immediately linked to the importance of these roles following the impact of the global pandemic.
Similarly, where we challenged perceptions around the built environment sector, by highlighting its importance in tackling climate change and its role in creating sustainable communities, young people expressed increased interest in the industry. How we talk and describe what we do in the built environment is a critical pathway to transforming perceptions of an industry, that in the current war for talent, is up against new and emerging sectors that capture the zeitgeist with ease. We all know that construction offers a technology enabled, multi-faceted career with tangible legacy and real social impact – we just need to get better at articulating what our sector really delivers to shift that perception dial further.
While we can all point to what we are doing within our own organisations to help mitigate future skills challenges, this is both an issue and an opportunity that cannot be solved at this level. By shining a light on the power of planning data as a proxy for more effective skills master planning, we’re starting conversations with key actors that can help lobby for change. We believe that a focus on data transparency and accessibility will have a profound impact on both the perception and the reality of the UK as a nation with a highly skilled workforce, embracing opportunities for the roles of today and into the future.