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Will the construction industry be ready for the Heathrow expansion?

Parliament has voted to go ahead and build a third runway at Heathrow, potentially improving the competitiveness of UK airports and generating construction sector jobs. But will the UK construction industry be ready for Heathrow expansion?

How significant is the Heathrow expansion?

The decision to add the third runway to Heathrow has been years in the making. London’s airport system will be at full capacity by 2040, according to Chairman of the Airports Commission, Sir Howard Davies and so steps were necessary to ensure that London airports could continue to meet demand for flights and support cargo services. As the first full length runway to be constructed in the UK since the Second World War, the new runway at Heathrow is a very significant project. And that’s before you even begin to look at the economic benefit of the new runway, which is numbered in the billions. Particularly given the impending exit from Europe, it’s especially important that the UK remains competitive.

Heathrow expansion and the construction industry

The Heathrow expansion represents significant opportunity for the construction industry in the UK in a number of ways.

  • An increase in employment. The vast nature of the expansion at Heathrow has the potential to create a large number of new jobs – 77,000 local jobs will have been created by 2030, many of them relating to the construction sector.
  • The use of off-site hubs. There has been a considerable focus on making sure that the economic benefits of the construction of the Heathrow third runway are enjoyed by businesses right across the country. The use of off-site hubs will ensure that businesses, from the East Midlands to Northern Ireland, have a part to play in contributing to construction and benefitting from the vast range of contracts available. Currently, a long list of 65 is to be reduced down to those that are suitable to be part of the airport’s supply chain.
  • New talent. The government has committed to creating 5,000 new apprenticeships by 2030, something that could be crucial for the construction sector where there are some significant talent gaps.

Many in the industry believe that the third runway project will be a big boost for the UK construction sector and provide some essential security to firms in the industry. Steve Radley, Director of Policy at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), said “Major projects like this help build a strong pipeline of work, which enables construction firms to plan for the future and offer thousands of jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities.”

Is the industry ready?

For the construction sector, Heathrow expansion is promising but there are some who are concerned whether the industry can cope. In particular, the current skills shortages in the industry could have an impact on completion times for the project and make it difficult for businesses to meet demand. The solution? Women. Attracting more women into the industry could help to alleviate the pressure that the Heathrow expansion will place on those in the sector currently struggling to fill jobs. A huge disparity between the numbers of men and women in the construction sector currently exists and if this could be rebalanced then the sector has a much better chance of thriving under the Heathrow expansion rather than being overwhelmed by it.

At RG Group we recognise the broad benefits of more equal recruitment into the construction sector.

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