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Collective approach to closing the skills gap

Thursday 25th May 2017

Transport for the North is currently undertaking a major review of transport skills across the whole of the North. The review, supported by KPMG, involves input from a wide variety of the region’s stakeholders, including all northern combined authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, educational institutions and the national delivery agencies such as Highway England, Network Rail and HS2.

To bring these groups together, a series of regional consultation events have been held across the North, aimed at providing the opportunity for representatives to meet and discuss what a ‘skilled North’ means to them, including what skills gaps are currently present in their sector and the challenges this might present in the future.

Clare Linton, Researcher at Urban Transport Group attended the Newcastle consultation event, here, she gives her thoughts on what the transport skills agenda means to her and her organisation.

Researcher at Urban Transport Group

Why is the skills gap such an important issue for the North?

Anecdotally we hear that our members, city region transport authorities, are struggling to recruit and retain talent. This is particularly pronounced with regards to skills which are in high demand in other sectors which can sometimes offer greater remuneration, such as digital skills which are needed in finance and tech companies, or legal skills. It’s interesting to see Transport for the North undertaking this piece of work to gain greater understanding of the skills gap in transport within the region.

What is collective Urban Transport Group doing to tackle the skills gap?

Last year we held a seminar to bring together representatives from our members to discuss the challenges and issues relating to recruitment, retention and skills. One particular area that we have subsequently focused on is raising awareness of the many great initiatives that are out there which promote transport as a career option and schemes to help improve diversity in the sector, and we produced a document highlighting many of these initiatives. It is important to take a collective approach on tackling the skills gap because the issues expand beyond one organisation or geographical area. And it is also important that in attracting talent to specific posts or sectors that we don’t undermine the ability of other organisations or sectors to deliver their own outcomes.

The TfN consultation event was a really interesting opportunity to discuss the challenges around skills in the North. In particular it was interesting to meet with representatives from organisations that I wouldn’t necessarily frequently cross paths with and viewing the issues from a different perspective, such as representatives from the construction sector. Clearly addressing the challenges of skills, and enabling future transport infrastructure to be delivered, needs engagement with a broad spectrum of organisations.

What is your vision of a ‘skilled North’?

Having a skilled transport sector, whether in the North or elsewhere, will allow our city region transport authorities to deliver the cities of the future, with state of the art transport infrastructure and the kind of urban realm that can attract economic activity.

What is holding back transport skills development in the North?

Attracting talent to the transport sector is challenging. When people think of transport careers they think of the frontline roles that they see every day, like drivers and customer service staff, and engineers, and these jobs are essential. But there are so many other options for careers in transport. As a social scientist, working in transport policy allows me to use the many skills I’ve gained through my degree in Geography and my postgraduate studies. And we need to promote the full spectrum of opportunities in the transport sector, that’s why we’ve been highlighting some of the many great initiatives that work in this area.

Find out more about Transport for the North’s Transport Skills project.