TfL commissioner to coordinate drive for transport apprentices

Transport for London transport commissioner Mike Brown is the new chair of the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce (STAT), taking on the role of coordinating and reporting on government's ambitious transport infrastructure skills strategy. Brown takes over from the former chief executive of HS2, Simon Kirby, who resigned from his post at the head of STAT as he departed HS2 to join Rolls Royce in September.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced Brown's appointment during a speech to the Civil Engineering Contractor's Association at the London Transport Museum, which Grayling also used to restate government's intentions to push on with HS2 and Crossrail 2 among a number of other big infrastructure projects. By 2020, construction of Phase One of HS2 will coincide with peaks in the work programme of Highways England and TfL's Underground upgrades, meaning a big rise in demand for skilled workers, Grayling said.

"By then the HS2 project will need an extra 27,000 construction professionals, including over 8,000 engineers. In total, we think to get all this work done, we’ll need an extra 56,000 skilled workers. And the demand won’t fall once we get past 2020. That’s also the year we begin our second Road Investment Strategy. We’ll be preparing for the start of construction for HS2 Phase 2, we’ll be pressing ahead with plans for Crossrail 2 and we expect Heathrow’s third runway to start construction around 2022."

Grayling pressed the need for industry to solve its lack of diversity of gender and black and minority ethnic engineers. He restated the targets of the transport skills strategy of a 20% increase in minority ethnic candidates entering transport apprenticeships and a minimum of a fifth of all apprentice places being taken by women. Firms bidding for transport infrastructure contracts must now train one apprentice for every £5m of the contract's value, or create five apprenticeships for every 200 people employed under each year of the contract, Grayling said.

Mike Brown will produce his first report on the progress of government's transport skills strategy in the spring of 2017. He faces a tough task coordinating the many apprenticeship and training initiatives launched by different industry groups. Brown is also likely to find the transport sector still has a long way to go to reach its skills targets. The author of the sector's skills strategy, Crossrail chairman Terry Morgan, admitted to Infrastructure Intelligence a year ago, that the overall aim of creating 30,000 transport apprenticeships by 2020 is a very stretching one.

Teams delivering Crossrail have had to work hard to recruit around 500 apprentices over the course of the project so far. Earlier this year Network Rail announced that its apprentice intake will increase 50% to 140 in 2017, taking the organisation's numbers on 'earn while they learn' to 300. These are small numbers, but from just the tip of the supply chain. As Grayling told CECA, government needs every company of the transport sector to do its bit to take on and train apprentices.

Difficulties being encountered within the supply chain have been pointed by Laing O'Rourke (LOR) in its report and 10-point plan for solving the construction industry's skills crisis. The LOR report shows that industry efforts to get new employer-led apprenticeships started through government's Trailblazer initiative are being hampered by frequent changes to policy guidance, slow approval of standards by government and a lack of final scheme assessors. The Trailblazer reforms were published in 2013. Around 150 new employer-led construction sector apprenticeships are needed, but so far only three have been approved.