We don't just need better infrastructure—we need better skillsby John Hayes / October 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
The economist Adam Smith understood the power of transport. Without the means to move people and products, he said, “every farmer must be butcher, baker and brewer.” But provide transport and the farmer can concentrate on farming, move his produce to market, and buy bread from the craft bakers in town. The farm flourishes, the farmer prospers, drinks better beer, and everyone benefits.
This observation remains the basis of all transport economics. Yet for me it represents a special insight, uniting two of my greatest passions: the power of transport, and the value of skills. Amongst other roles, I have served as skills minister and transport minister. I have seen how transport can promote skills, allowing students to study and workers to build their prospects by gaining and keeping jobs in another city.
But if transport supports skills, it also depends upon them. And here lies a problem. Today, we are facing an acute shortage of people entering the transport sector—and too few people means too few skills.
At any time, this shortage would cause concern, but right now we’re investing more in our transport networks than in living memory. We are building new railways on a scale unseen since Queen Victoria’s reign, as well as overhauling many existing lines, delivering thousands of new carriages and constructing new stations.