In recognition of the scale of underground activity expected in the UK over the next decade, the Government is to match £1.7 million worth of targeted employer investment in training and education, with a further £1.1 million of funding.
As part of plans specific to the development of the tunnelling and underground construction sub-sector, a group of employers will use the money to build the skills of their existing workforces, while also offering new training routes into the underground.
Both the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) run courses in a variety of underground disciplines.
TUCA courses, held at the academy building in London, range in duration from 1-5 days with some funding available towards costs in the form of Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) training grants. Typically the courses offered cover shotcreting operations, loco driver training, plant maintenance, SCL techniques, sprayed waterproof membrance applications, as well as a range of underground-specific and more generalised health and safety courses.
The latest ICE courses for January-June 2015 include a number of one and two-day courses that will be held at various locations throughout the UK and which have relevance to the underground construction industry.
The ICE will also be hosting an Engineering Skills Conference in April.
Employers working on the Crossrail infrastructure project in London are among those taking part in a scheme which is pledging to create 75 new tunnelling and underground construction apprenticeships, as well as a range of accredited courses to help up-skill the existing workforce of both major employers and smaller sub-contractors. In all it is expected that more than 4,800 workers will benefit from extra training.
UK Government Skills Minister Nick Boles said: “Our investment in major infrastructure projects has established the UK as a world leader in tunnelling and underground construction.”
“Crossrail alone is supporting in the region of 55,000 jobs and with other major projects planned we want to go even further, to create a jobs legacy for future generations and give the industry the skills it needs to dig deeper and further.”
Another strand of the new programme will see the creation of an Industry Advisory Panel (IAP), which will seek to represent the interests of Crossrail-linked employers and other major players in the tunnelling sector.
Terry Morgan, Chairman of the Crossrail project, said: “The volume of tunnelling and underground construction work taking place in the UK over the next decade is unprecedented. Crossrail, in partnership with its principal contractors, has delivered the most significant injection of new skills in a generation. It is essential that we continue to grow the industry’s talent base to ensure Britain remains at the forefront of major infrastructure delivery.”
As part of its skills commitments, Crossrail recently announced that it has now helped to create 400 apprenticeships. Andy Walder, Principal of the National Construction College (NCC) that runs the London-based Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academmy (TUCA) on behalf of Crossrail, said: “We welcome this investment in tunnelling apprenticeships, as it will go some way to meeting future skills demand in this area. What is more, with TUCA the facilities are already in place to deliver these apprenticeships for the good of the industry."
The £1.1 million Government investment is part of the so-called Employer Ownership Scheme under which groups of employers which traditionally compete for work within a sector join forces to improve training and education provision within their sub-sector. During the first round of the pilot programme a consortium of construction companies led by Balfour Beatty, and including Kier, Wates Group and BAM Nuttall and 14 other small and medium-sized enterprises established a general construction industry training programme valued at £12 million; and in the second round Balfour Beatty achieved matched funding towards a £9 million construction academy to design training courses relevant to the needs of the industry.
This latest successful bid for funding is the first time that the specialist sub-sector of underground construction has received financial assistance in its own right, and is recognition of the fact that the UK is experiencing something of a tunnelling boom. Crossrail, Thames Tideway and the National Grid tunnels are all either under construction or scheduled for an imminent start, while looking forward Crossrail 2 and High Speed 2 (Phases 1 and 2) plus the possibility of High Speed 3 under the Pennines adds further pressure to the skills base that will be required.
In October last year it was announced that a specialist college will be established in Birmingham in the UK with a specific remit to prepare for construction of High Speed 2, for which 56km of twin-running tunnels will be required.