Northern Ireland Year of Infrastructure 2018 by Richard Kirk, Regional Director, Institution of Civil Engineers
Infrastructure underpins life as we know it, and it is crucial to Northern Ireland’s businesses. Infrastructure drives the economy forward by generating jobs, productivity and well-being, with every £1 of investment generating £2.84 in the wider economy. Infrastructure also enables the movement of people and goods, facilitates communication and attracts foreign direct investment.
However, despite infrastructure’s demonstrated impact on Northern Ireland’s economic competitiveness and on people’s quality of life, it often takes a backseat to other issues.
2018 is the year for that to change. Infra2018 is the Northern Ireland Year of Infrastructure 2018, and it is our chance to tell the story of how infrastructure helps build our quality of life. Throughout 2018, we want to show the public how social and economic infrastructure makes Northern Ireland liveable.
Each month in 2018 Northern Ireland Year of Infrastructure 2018 will have a different theme to tie in with major events throughout the year starting in February with Water – exploring how we get it, how to make the most of it and how to protect the natural cycle. An interactive website – www.infra2018.org – has also been created to show the public how the home, and our quality of life, is made liveable through infrastructure.
As part of the January launch of Infra2018, a fully representative survey of over 1,000 adults (16+) was commissioned with results showing that a third of those surveyed were unable to cite any unprompted association with the term infrastructure.
To help address this lack of public awareness, Infra2018.org is providing lots of fun information illustrating the breadth of Northern Ireland’s infrastructure. It is everywhere we look, and the kind of things that we take for granted including water, power supply, roads, schools, hospitals, bridges and railways. Website visitors can even put in their postcode to find out where their water has come from, how long it takes to get to them and where it ends up once they’ve used it.
Another major aim of the Northern Ireland Year of Infrastructure 2018 campaign is to inspire the next generation to get involved in infrastructure and to encourage them to consider a career in this exciting industry. Indeed, one of the biggest issues facing infrastructure delivery is the impending skills shortage.
The Skills Barometer Report, which came out in 2015, identified IT and civil engineering as two of the areas with greatest undersupply over the next decade. In 2016, a survey by CBI and AECOM showed that 86% of infrastructure providers were concerned that these shortages will deter the ability to deliver projects. Worse, by 2021 we will have 10% less 18-year-olds to fill these in-demand jobs.
We have a short window to act. Though has been some positive growth around apprenticeships in recent years, setbacks such as uncertainties around the apprenticeship levy are slowing down our progress.
The absence of the Executive is another huge challenge. Nearly a year ago, prior to the March 2017 Assembly elections, ICE made a list of asks for the new Executive to deliver within its first 100 days. The list still stands: aiding delivery of projects such as the York Street Interchange, North-South Interconnector, A5, A6, and Belfast Transport Hub. Today, our wider infrastructure needs are even more pressing. True, some of these projects are progressing, but we need a forward-looking Executive that will prioritise and fund the infrastructure we need over the next 10, 20, and 30 years.
The current conversation revolving around uncertainty and political tension is causing us to miss the bigger picture. We need to be actively handing the baton to the next generation and investing in the infrastructure projects needed to create jobs, attract investment and enable Northern Ireland to prosper.
Our industry can only do so much. We need a secure Executive committed to funding and delivering outcomes in order to make this happen, and there needs to be a strong public demand for infrastructure. That’s what Infra2018 is all about – raising awareness and understanding of how infrastructure underpins our lives, so that people will value it accordingly.
2018 should be the year that infrastructure dominates the conversation in Northern Ireland. Educating the public is the first step to getting these issues to the forefront. As a sector, we should be united in pressing our leaders to invest in the infrastructure and skills which support our health, economy, environment and quality of life.
Please join in celebrating the Northern Ireland Year of Infrastructure 2018 with us. Together, we can inspire the next generation, strengthen our reputation as a magnet for investment, and champion the infrastructure building our future.
For further information on how to get involved with Infra2018: Northern Ireland Year of Infrastructure, go to www.infra2018.org.