Government unveils infrastructure investment to support 425,000 new jobs a year

But experts say it must work with employers to make sure skilled talent is ready to fill new vacancies

An “ambitious” £650bn infrastructure investment plan will support the creation of 425,000 jobs a year over the next four years, the government has said.

The Treasury yesterday (13 September) announced its latest national infrastructure and construction pipeline, which promises to create new opportunities for thousands of apprentices, technicians and graduates.

The funding, which will be spent over a 10-year period, will go towards both private and public sector infrastructure projects, and includes £89bn worth of spending on 165 educational projects including major rebuilding projects at schools and sixth form colleges.

However, Martin Hottass, managing director for technical training at City & Guilds Group, said while the figures indicate that infrastructure projects have “great potential” to boost the economy and create high-quality jobs, it may not be the case.

“The reality is that we won’t see these benefits unless we have the talent available to meet the uplift in demand,” said Hottass, adding that alongside its commitment to infrastructure investment, the government needs employers and industries to “work together to address these urgent issues and ensure we have the right skills and people to fill these jobs”.

“A commitment to lifelong learning and development of strong career paths must be a key part of this – and we need to act now to ensure we have the skilled talent ready in time for the start of these projects,” he said.

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Alongside the new industrial plan, the Treasury also provided an update on its Plan for Jobs, which it launched this April to help young people struggling to find work to get a foot on the jobs ladder.

According to the Treasury, more than 80,000 apprentices have been hired under the government’s incentive payment plan, through which employers receive a lump sum for every new apprentice they take on.

On top of this, 63,000 young people have started jobs under the Kickstart scheme, which pays the wage of any 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit newly hired by employers for six months up to the cost of the minimum wage.

Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said it welcomed progress the Plan for Jobs had made, and the government’s commitment to keep employer incentives for apprenticeships, which are due to stop at the end of the month, under review.

“We believe that [incentives] should be continued to encourage recruitment of young apprentices,” said Hickie, adding that the latest jobs figures, released today by the Office for National Statistics, showed only a “very small drop in youth unemployment and in our view apprenticeships and traineeships should remain an essential part of the recovery effort as they will also help employers fill the growing number of vacancies”.

During a visit to the Midlands to speak with apprentices on the launch of the scheme, chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the infrastructure investment showed that the government was “sticking” to its plan to protect jobs and businesses.

“This isn’t just about numbers – our Plan for Jobs is also about giving people the hope and opportunity to meet their potential as we emerge from the pandemic and the economy recovers,” said Sunak.

The Plan for Jobs has helped to double the number of frontline jobcentre staff, totalling 27,000 work coaches in eight months and unemployment has fallen, as peak unemployment is forecast to be two million fewer than previously feared.

The update comes as latest figures from the ONS has shown that payrolled employment has now reached pre-pandemic levels, while the number of job vacancies has surpassed 1 million for the first time since records began in 2001.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, said while the investment is a positive step forwards for employers. But, she added, there were things businesses could be doing themselves to recruit and retain staff. 

“Reviews of recruitment processes can be useful in assessing how effective they are and highlight different ways to reach their goals,” said Palmer adding that “using positive action tools can help companies attract talent from underrepresented groups to promote a diverse and inclusive working environment, whilst having high-quality employees to drive organisational growth”.