Former home secretary Lord Blunkett has vote to force the government to “pull its finger out” on skills to prevent a labour shortage for the UK’s major infrastructure projects.
Speaking to Construction News, the Labour peer said the government must get colleges and education providers “geared up” to offer the construction skills needed for projects such as HS2 and the expansion of Heathrow.
“If we don’t plan now to get the careers advice in place at schools and get apprentices increased we are going to be in real difficulty,” he said.
On the prospect of Brexit, Lord Blunkett said the situation “adds a real urgency to the immediate future”.
Arcadis has estimated that UK construction could lose up to 215,000 workers by 2020 under a hard Brexit.
The Labour peer added: “Either we get our act together with diversity, with women, with people who have been unemployed for a long time coming back into workforce, or we end up with a massive shortage.”
Lord Blunkett, who also served as education and employment secretary in Tony Blair’s government, warned:
“We could end up putting the work out for other countries, which in my view would be a catastrophic outcome.”
The Labour peer, who is chairman of the Heathrow Skills Taskforce, was speaking to coincide with the launch of an online forum to gather views on the airport’s future education, employment and skills strategy.
Four logistics hubs are expected to be set up by Heathrow across the country to create 180,000 new jobs, including 10,000 apprenticeships, as part of the airport’s proposed expansion.
As part of his role on the taskforce Lord Blunkett has also met leaders from other major infrastructure projects, including Tideway, HS2, Crossrail and Hinkley, to discuss tackling the skills strategy.
“It’s clear we’re all in the same boat trying to plan ahead for major investment and skill shortages,” he said.
“What we hope to do is time the requirement for particular skills in such a way that people can transfer from one major project to another.”
On the government’s new T-Levels, designed to give parity to technical qualifications, Lord Blunkett said they are a “contribution” but added “unless they are actually implanted very quickly they are going to be behind the timeline”.
He added: “Part of the job of the taskforce is to persuade the government to pull its finger out and make this part of the follow through from the industrial strategy green paper.”