Stewart Nicol, chief executive, Inverness Chamber of Commerce
There is much activity on the A9 at the start of 2019, which is a welcome development for those desperate to see this essential transport artery upgraded.
Ground investigation works are continuing on a number of sections as part of the programme that will eventually see the remaining 80 miles of the Inverness-Perth trunk road upgraded from single to dual carriageway by 2025.
These are essential, if somewhat slow-moving, projects and we must keep up the pressure on the Scottish Government to ensure this dualling exercise for our main road connection stays on timescale.
But another project related to the A9 work, and which has not had the same level of publicity, will also hopefully have a long-term impact for businesses and our future workforce.
On 19 and 20 March, Aviemore will host the Academy9 ‘Building a Legacy’ conference which will bring together teachers, policy makers, educational leaders and industry representatives from both design and construction companies to share knowledge and consider the future development of the government’s Academy9 initiative.
This project, which recently won the British Construction Industry’s Skills Impact Initiative of the Year award, is an integral part of the overall A9 work, targeting primary and secondary schools along the trunk road route and aiming to equip future generations with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills.
The aim is not just to have a modern trunk road at the end of the construction process, but that it also leaves a legacy of employment and training opportunities.
Inverness Chamber commends this ambition as it is very much aligned with the objectives of our work to deliver the Developing the Young Workforce programme for Inverness and Central Highland (DYWICH). Representatives from DYWICH will attend the Aviemore conference and will help promote its aims across the region and our future workforce.
Construction is one of the areas where there is a skills shortage, particularly in the Highlands, and we hope this conference will help stimulate interest from young people and help overcome perceptions about working in the sector as a way of helping reducing this gap.
There are more than 150 types of job in the construction sector, many still being developed in areas like drone management and robotics, so it’s an area that could interest a wide range of future employees.
The focus on STEM subjects is a welcome synergy as this is also a key aim of DYWICH and the City-Region deal, that will deliver £315 million of government funding across the Highlands as part of skills and business development.
Developing the A9, and our future workforce, is vital to a growing and skilled economy are we are keen to see both accelerating to allow the Highlands to see the benefits in both the short and long term.