At Highways UK 2023, CIHT engaged with both the Minister and the Shadow Minister of Transport and presented at keynote sessions.
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Between Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th October, over 8,000 transport professionals and their organisations gathered in Birmingham for Highways UK.
On the first day Richard Holden, Minister for Roads and Local Transport had a meeting with CIHT’s President, Karen McShane, Sue Percy, CIHT’s CEO and Antonenta Horbury, CIHT’s Director of Policy & Technical Practice. On the second day, Bill Esterson MP the Shadow Transport Minister for Roads from the Labour Party met Sue and Karen.
The President and CEO of CIHT, were involved in presenting at two different keynote addresses. CIHT members and staff also attended the event - taking part in discussions with colleagues, networking, and presenting at sessions.
Paul Hutton, co-owner of Highways News, welcomed people to the conference and highlighted the need to work collaboratively to achieve decarbonisation. Paul also outlined the need to build confidence - across all our road networks - in advancing the implementation of technology to create safer and more efficient networks.
Richard Holden, Minister for Roads and Local Transport, at an opening keynote address thanked the sector, on behalf of the Department of Transport, for their work in making everyday journeys safe and easy for people. The Minister outlined some recent announcements including the £36bn investment through Network North; to a further investment in the Live Lab programs to expedite innovation; to a £3m fund available for rural local authorities to implement and scale up new technologies.
Richard Holden also announced the launch of a new Initiative: “Roads to tomorrow”, where the Department for Transport will look at unlocking the potential of technology for our road networks.
As the Minster summarised: Highways UK 2023 was all about people, creating security, improving essential services, and opening up the routes into the sector for young people to join. Below we have summarised out main takeaways from the two days.
Sue Percy, CEO of CIHT, was part of a panel discussion at a keynote session that focused on the skills and capability that the workforce in the transport sector will need to develop over the next few years. Sue cited research that within the transport sector, alongside other sectors, 90% of companies are aware that there is a skills gap in their workforce. And that 90% of roles require the acquisition of new skills within the time five to ten years.
Local highway authorities (LHAs) are facing the challenge of identifying skills required across the entire project lifecycle: from early-stage planning and procurement to delivery and ongoing asset management.
Sue said the sector had to attract new people to work within it and highlighted the application of new digital technologies (that are being deployed) will attract people in their ability to address environmental challenges.
The sector must focus on attracting people to roles that are clear in their scope to addressing and supporting wider societal benefits, such as connectivity, economic growth, environmental sustainability, improved living environments, and supporting public health. This shift in perspective is not only about attracting newcomers but also about engaging mid-career professionals who have important life experiences and perspectives that they can share with early-career professionals.
The overall message was clear: the sector must change its narrative, enhance collaboration with external stakeholders, act collectively, invest in leadership, and prioritise learning and development. In doing this the sector’s workforce with be resilient to challenges and able to adapt to an uncertain future enviroment.
Michael Dnes, Head of Future Road technology, presented a new initiative from DfT that looks at unlocking the potential of technology on roads: technology can deliver significant benefits and can reduce costs.
The DfT is actively engaging with professionals in the sector, starting with local authorities, to gain insights into the obstacles hindering the use of technology. The objective is to establish a shared understanding of the challenges and offer support to organisations in developing their own approaches.
The insights gathered under the "Roads to Tomorrow" initiative, will inform key decision-making processes, such as the Road Investment Strategy 3 (RIS3), and facilitate the development of tools and frameworks to assist decision-makers in the sector when it comes to adopting technology.
CIHT welcomes this initiative that represents a forward-looking approach to drive progress and innovation and look forward to engaging with DfT on this project.
A key topic at Highways UK was innovation in transport. CIHT is keeping up with the latest developments in transport technology. For this, CIHT staff attended several sessions on digital twins and drones in transport at Highways UK and look forward to sharing knowledge on this with CIHT members.
A key concern for the transport sector is around the decarbonisation of freight transport and there was a focus at Highways UK on the choice of sustainable modes for delivery. Right before the Highways UK conference, Amazon announced the plan to test delivery drones in the UK next year. One of the presentations at Highways UK was from Transport for West Midlands who are exploring the technical aspects associated with the application of drones and their safety impact for pedestrians.
CIHT will further explore the potential of different solutions for last-mile delivery, including the upcoming publication of the policy briefing on cargo bikes.
At the end of the event Sue Percy presented the Lifetime Laureate Award to Dipesh Shah, who will be ending his role as Chair of National Highways towards the end of 2023.
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