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Regeneration around UK Ports needs big commitment to training, says infrastructure specialist DTL

Regeneration around UK Ports needs big commitment to training, says infrastructure specialist DTL

14 March 2019

Brexit has created a climate of political and economic uncertainty that one way or another affects every business in the UK. The lack of clear direction makes it harder than usual to plan for the future, and that has led to investment decisions being deferred.

Literally at the frontline of the UK-EU divide, ports and the businesses that keep them running are wrestling with even more uncertainties, as training specialist Develop Training Ltd (DTL) points out. What will be the effect of Brexit scenarios on port traffic, regulations and compliance or employment, for example?

Ports are critical for trade and prosperity

As gateways for international trade and tourism, ports are clearly critical for trade and prosperity in their own right, but their influence goes further, says DTL. Thriving ports can deliver positive regeneration, stimulating development and infrastructure in and around their locations. In the Thames Estuary corridor, forecasts suggest potential growth could deliver 1.3 million new jobs with a requirement for 1 million new homes to support that growth.

Delivering on this vision will take a skilled workforce

Delivering on this vision will take leadership, and as DTL points out, it will require skills, lots of skills. The training company, which has seven locations in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, provides training for many of the country’s biggest names in construction, utilities and infrastructure. It is a leading campaigner for investment in learning and development to combat the UK’s chronic skills shortage in these critical sectors.

DTL explains that the skills crisis has its roots in a pincer movement where an ageing workforce is not being replaced because of long-term under investment in training. The construction, utilities and infrastructure sectors have seen spiralling wage inflation as a result of the shortage of skilled workers.

Filling the skills gap

As DTL points out, many businesses in these sectors have come to rely on workers from other EU countries to fill the skills gap. Now that ‘fix’ is coming unstuck with EU workers leaving the country for a mixture of reasons - some because they feel unwelcome, others because the weak pound has devalued the money they send home and still others because of improved opportunities in their home economies.

Long-term under investment in training

DTL says long-term under investment in training has been further exacerbated by the uncertainty around Brexit, as businesses rein in on budgets, including learning and development investment. Unless the training divide is addressed, DTL says the issue will manifest itself not only in a worsening shortage of skilled workers on the ground but also in fewer opportunities for workers to progress within businesses. That is important because frustration at lack of progress often leads employees to take decisions to jump ship or leave the industry altogether.

Meanwhile, DTL warns if investment in training future leaders and managers continues to stagnate, it will mean businesses are insufficiently prepared to make the most of potential opportunities for regeneration and collaboration in areas such as the Thames Estuary.

Port workers require specialist skills

Ports themselves, of course, are dangerous places, where workers require specialist skills such as safe working in confined spaces, one of the many courses delivered by DTL, which operates a mobile confined spaces unit for the purpose.

DTL points out that in lean times, there may be a temptation to see compliance training in such areas as a tick-box exercise, doing the minimum required, but that is a false economy. Training shortfalls in these areas can result not only in death or life-changing injury for workers but reputational damage for businesses, fines and even criminal prosecution and imprisonment of managers responsible.

Even in apparently safe environments, such as public waiting rooms, there are areas where training is critically important. Preventing deadly legionella bacteria in water systems, such as those used in air conditioning, is another key area where DTL has developed training to ensure that the risks are properly managed.

Changing attitudes towards training

To try to change attitudes towards training in these areas, DTL has published white papers explaining its concept of the ‘continuous learning loop’. This model ensures that rather than employees undergoing training that is quickly forgotten, learning is a continuous process, keeping the techniques and procedures required for safe working and systems front of mind.

The white paper on confined spaces is available to download here.

The white paper on legionella is available to download here.

Nowhere is the skills gap so stark than in the sphere of apprenticeships, and here neither long-term neglect nor Brexit worries are totally to blame. DTL points out that one of the difficulties in delivering a big apprenticeship programme – recruitment - has its roots in the fall from fashion of vocational training. While the shiny idea of going to university may have tarnished recently, careers with hard hats are a difficult sell against parental bias and the eye-popping aspirations of millennials.

To change perceptions, DTL has been working with leading figures in HR in the construction and infrastructure sectors, promoting the career opportunities, job security and decent salaries on offer for qualified personnel. It sees evidence that the opportunity to earn while you learn is gaining traction among young people for whom racking up student debt is an obstacle to university.

Continuing skills shortages and falling numbers of foreign workers

Facing continuing skills shortages and falling numbers of foreign workers, surely businesses should be embracing apprenticeships. But in uncertain times, as DTL points out, there is a reluctance to take on apprentices, which most firms rightly see as a long-term commitment. Added to that feeling of uncertainty, many businesses have little or no experience of managing apprenticeships, making it harder for them to take that first step. Fortunately, approved providers such as DTL are available to help.

The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy has changed the nature of apprenticeships

The apprenticeship levy has been designed to encourage businesses – at least the larger ones – to grasp the nettle. Big firms pay the levy based on their payroll but can claim it back if they invest it in apprenticeships through authorised providers such as DTL. The training company says that after initial confusion and scepticism, businesses are now investing in apprenticeships through the levy. Deadlines beginning this spring mean firms will have to make a decision to invest their levy payments in apprenticeship programmes or lose the money to the Treasury. They now also have the opportunity to use some of their levy payments to fund apprenticeship programmes at other companies, typically those in their supply chains.

The introduction of the levy has also changed the nature of apprenticeships, encouraging businesses to work with authorised providers such as DTL to find creative ways to invest their levy payments. One of these is management apprenticeships that see existing employees receive specialist training to learn new skills on approved courses. DTL says this is a new way that businesses can channel funding to develop their future leaders. DTL provides a range of management skills training, including problem solving, adaptability and leadership – all attributes that will be required if businesses are to come together to maximise the opportunities in areas around ports, such as the Thames Estuary.

Improving attitudes towards training

So, while there are some signs of an improving attitude towards training, DTL says it is clear that much more needs to be done. Individual firms, employer organisations, government and regeneration agencies all have a part to play in addressing the skills crisis. Whatever the outcome from Brexit, DTL forecasts UK ports and their surrounding areas will only flourish if there is concerted commitment to investment in learning and development.  

© Develop 2019