Berwick Partners’ inaugural Perspectives on Infrastructure dinner was recently held at our Cannon Street HQ in London. With the backdrop of St Pauls we enjoyed an evening that began discussing the Highways Agency Roads Reform, and rapidly turned into a debate around lack of talent within the sector.
The room was an interesting mix of leaders from across the complex highways supply chain, from principal contractors, to term maintenance, aggregate supply, consultants, clients and programme managers. To add an interesting dynamic, we also had an ex Highways Agency employee who gave some useful and somewhat provocative points of view from the other side of the table.
In discussing the Highways Agency Roads Reform the table’s overriding opinion was that changes hadn’t gone far enough. The political climate and next year’s elections gave concern over continuity. Would all decisions and funding promises be upheld by a change in government, and without this could businesses rely on this catalyst for business growth?
Across the table, resource and talent was a consistent theme. Most, if not all businesses represented had flagged succession planning as a business risk. Few future leaders were coming through the ranks, and fewer still were entering in graduate and apprentice schemes. Women in the industry was also touched upon, with some exceptions, the consensus being that little was being done to actively promote it.
Possibly the most interesting aspect to come out of the session however was the lack of diversity across the Highways sector in terms of past exposure to the wider infrastructure industry. The Highways sector was described as a particularly insular market with very few examples of candidates entering the industry later in their career. It was commented that Highways wasn’t ‘sexy’, and in comparison to Aviation for example, it lacked the glamour of the wider transportation sector.
Roads, as well as rail and all other transportation modes are key enablers for economic growth. Is it the sectors own fault for not promoting themselves as an integral part of the national infrastructure? It raised some very interesting and pertinent questions that should be asked by those leaders running the biggest companies in the sector. I hope that our guests were able to take some of these points back into their own companies and that they are able to use their considerable voice to impact change.
Berwick Partners runs a series of events annually across the Energy, Manufacturing and Infrastructure sectors. Korinna Sjoholm is a Consultant working within the Infrastructure and Built Environment sector nationally.