Building a national skills legacy

More national infrastructure projects can create UK-wide opportunities.

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The future success of our country lies in the hands of our young people. Their abilities and actions will determine Britain’s future, and its place in the world. And with the world changing so fast, we need to provide the next generation with the right tools for success – jobs and skills that are adaptable for the future.

New jobs and skills go hand in hand with building infrastructure. For every new railway, road or runway that Britain builds, a unique set of skills is required and a legacy of expertise that can be transferred to future projects is left behind. As we enter an exciting new era for national infrastructure with many critical projects in the pipeline, we have an opportunity to build a lasting legacy.

This is my vision for Heathrow. I want our expanded airport to help thousands of people across the United Kingdom – of all ages, backgrounds and skill-sets – fulfil their potential and become the leaders of tomorrow.

Careers and skills for a brighter future

Heathrow is so large and diverse, it’s often described as a “mini-city”. We’re one of the biggest single-site employers in the UK, with 76,000 people working in 400 businesses across the airport. Last year Heathrow became the first airport in Britain to be fully accredited as Living Wage Employer.

Heathrow offers a huge range of career options from becoming a chef for Gordon Ramsay, or even a vet at Heathrow’s Animal Reception Centre. Expansion will mean up to 40,000 diverse new careers like these, so we can help more local young people find the right career path for them.

But for young people, finding that right career can be difficult and daunting. I can remember when I started applying for jobs how hard it was to understand the choices available, and which was right for me.

Our annual careers fair is designed to help young people with these questions. Now in its 11th year, the fair enables young visitors to uncover the opportunities available to them and to find the right fit. For over a decade, we’ve worked with local schools and colleges to make this event a success. Our most recent careers fair took place in January, with almost 5,500 local people paying us a visit.

One of the exhibitors at the fair is Heathrow’s Engineering Apprenticeship team. Every year, thousands of young people apply for a coveted space on our successful scheme, which celebrated its 40th birthday last year. Its longevity speaks to the success of the programme, and is why half of our engineering team are former Heathrow apprentices.

Supporting Britain’s future workforce is not just about providing opportunities. It means giving people the training they need to seize these opportunities and supporting them at every step of their careers. That’s why we started the Heathrow Employment and Skills Academy – our flagship programme to identify and develop the talent we need. Now in its 14th year, the academy works with local partners to help unemployed people maximise their chances of securing work with Heathrow employers. The academy also provides training for our existing colleagues, and through our new Higher Level Apprenticeship programme, we’re helping all our employees secure long and meaningful careers.

Today, Britain’s job market is more complex than ever. With so many options available to some, and not enough to others, businesses need to guide young people through the early steps of their careers. By setting each employee on the right path, we can make Britain’s future workforce stronger.

Expansion means doubling our apprenticeship offering to 10,000; 700 more people finding employment through our academy each year, and thousands more employment opportunities across Heathrow. I want a local child to one day step into my shoes as chief executive. With the opportunities expansion will bring, we’re ever closer to making this happen.

Revolutionising our national skill-set

In October 2016, the government announced its support for Heathrow expansion and we are expecting parliament to vote on a policy framework for the project in the coming months. In the meantime, we are carrying out an extensive public consultation on our emerging proposals, to help us develop the best final scheme for expansion.

Expanding the UK’s hub airport will send a message to the world that Britain is open for business. It will give Britain the infrastructure it needs to boost its trade with the world and to help rebalance the national economy. At a crucial time, expansion will help plug the growing national skills gap, by creating a legacy of skills for our future outside of the EU. Research by the Open University has shown the skills gap is costing UK businesses over £2bn a year.

In an effort to lead change, in 2016 we set up our Skills Taskforce, chaired by former education and employment secretary Lord Blunkett. The taskforce brings together experts across education, local government, unions, and voluntary and private sectors to develop our skills strategy for an expanded Heathrow and beyond. As part of this, we’re collaborating with other major British infrastructure projects like High Speed 2 and Thames Tideway, to share ideas on how we can arm Britain’s future generations with the skills they need.

But we’ll need some of these skills now, as we start to build our new runway. That’s why we’re locating four Logistics Hubs across Britain to source talent from every corner of the country. The sites will pre-assemble and transport vital components for Britain’s new runway, helping to deliver expansion more efficiently, whilst allowing businesses right across Britain to get involved. Through this process and by collaborating with other infrastructure projects, we want to revolutionise the way Britain builds its infrastructure.

A new runway at Britain’s hub airport is not just an investment in infrastructure. It is an investment in a better future for Britain’s young people.

John Holland-Kaye is chief executive at Heathrow Airport.