Future challenges | Ferrovial on skills

Ferrovial Construction’s UK business has high hopes That it can do its bit to address the country’s long standing skills deficit with its new apprentice programme: Futures, mentoring initiatives and career ‘roadmaps’.

Closing the skills gap remains priority number one for the civil engineering sector, says Ferrovial Construction UK’s managing director Karl Goose.

“We need to raise the profile of the industry as an interesting, exciting career choice: engineering is still very much a people business,” he says.

“It’s great there is so much wonderful innovation in engineering these days, but we still need staff both in offices and on site overseeing work,” he adds.

Good salaries, training and flexibility

Goose says construction companies must be prepared to offer good salaries, training and a flexible working environment so they can compete with other firms and industries to attract and retain employees.

“Fortunately, we are now in an environment where there is a lot of work,” he adds. 

“Because construction was mostly able to carry on through Covid, it may have made our sector a little more attractive to people than before.

“But we are still not seeing the volume and quality of people coming through that are required.”

Skills shortages have long been an issue for the UK civil engineering sector, where talented professionals are often in demand to go and work on the next large scheme at short notice.

Developing skills through apprenticeships and mentoring is a key focus for Ferrovial Construction UK managing director Karl Goose

As a young surveyor, Goose’s early construction experience included something of a nomadic lifestyle. “I was living in caravans and being told that next week I will be moving from London to Manchester.

He adds: “That was the nature of the game and it still is, to a point. The sector can be hard. You are outside in the elements working unfavourable hours. But as time has gone on, people have got more choices. 

“Civil engineering is a good qualification to have and means you are in demand, not just from construction but from employers in other sectors too like finance and technology.”

Looking forward, Goose says the sector has a bright future with new opportunities in several areas, despite the situation in Ukraine fuelling a rise in inflation.

“The government has done a good job in creating a pipeline of work and now there is definitely a pivot towards potential hydro energy projects, nuclear and offshore wind,” he says.

We are still not seeing the volume and quality of people coming through that are required

“Something we all face is a continuous merry go round of offers and counter offers by Tier 1s and consultants to attract the same pool of talent. It is not sustainable in the medium to long term and the skills shortage can only be resolved through true collaboration. I am not sure we have seen that yet,” says Goose.

But if the civil engineering sector cannot recruit more skilled people soon, there may be an increase in project costs, he warns. “As a sector, it is essential that we keep developing and attracting talent,” Goose says.

Two years ago he was promoted to the role of Ferrovial Construction UK’s managing director and introduced a business strategy that places people “front and centre”.

Securing sufficient numbers of skilled people to work on major projects – from High Speed 2 to the Thames Tideway super sewer and the Silvertown Tunnel in east London – represents “the biggest challenge we have,” Goose explains.

He launched the Futures apprenticeship scheme which currently has 40 participants whose training plans closely follow the company’s established graduate programme. Courses range from a Level 3 diploma in surveying to a Level 7 integrated degree as a sustainability business specialist.

Goose says the apprentice scheme was developed partly to provide engineering opportunities for more people living near to major projects. Some apprentices work as close as half a mile from site,
he notes.

Apprenticeships are also suited to those who decide that university is not for them, or that it is an unaffordable way to train, he adds. 

Ferrovial is focused on growing the skills of its workforce

“The two pathways complement each other, but many people really value working four days a week on site and learning while they earn,” he says.

In addition, Ferrovial Construction is engaging more with minority communities to promote the apprentice route, as well as the more conventional route. 

Another area of focus for the company is mentoring. “You learn not just through books, but through others,” says Goose.

Early in his career, Goose benefited from mentoring by former boss Tim Gormon of Balfour Beatty, who later encouraged Goose to join Amey.

“My first scheme [with Balfour Beatty] was construction of the Limehouse Link in east London; a great project with great people,” he says. “Construction still boils down to how you engage with clients and the supply chain, and mentoring is core to this.”

Ferrovial Construction has created a “career pathway” programme for its civil engineers, detailing the training
and development needed to progress from their current roles to a range of other positions.

Training pathways

Key performance indicators are presented in a diagrammatic form for apprentices and graduates, setting out the training pathways available.

The programme has been received so well it is being taken up by Ferrovial’s head office in Madrid.

“Your mentor will sign off what you have achieved and help you move onto the next stage,” says Goose. “But we are not trying to pigeon-hole individuals: there are many opportunities for our professionals to explore.”

Improving staff wellbeing is another important area of focus, he adds, and the company offers private healthcare alongside generous maternity and paternity arrangements.

Goose adds that at the height of Covid the company ensured everyone was paid their salary in full and made no redundancies.

For graduates, the company has recently worked alongside the ICE to take 20 placements in two years through the Institution’s Quest scholarship.

Keeping apprentice and graduate training relevant

Content of the company’s apprentice and graduate programmes is constantly reviewed to ensure it remains relevant. Mid-career professionals thinking of a change of direction are encouraged to come forward, along with women looking to get back into work after bringing up children.

Ferrovial Construction also runs an international exchange programme called “GoFurther” allowing staff to travel abroad to work in countries including Australia, and Canada as well as in South America.

Around six engineers from the UK typically take up the opportunity each year. “The programme really opens doors onto the world,” Goose explains. 

It is clear that Goose is determined to make a difference when it comes to skills and he urges the rest of the industry to take action too.

  • Published in association with Ferrovial

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