Joanne Conway on a Diverse and Bright Future for Highways

Chair of the FM Conway Group, Joanne Conway, provides her insight into how we can encourage people from all walks of life to enjoy the fantastic opportunities our sector offers.

Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce is critical to tackling highways’ skills shortages and securing the industry’s future – widening our recruitment net and allowing us to fish in a much bigger pond. 

Organisations like the CIHT are working hard to change the sector’s image and attract different talent but businesses need to play their part too.  This means encouraging more women and people from different social backgrounds and ethnicities to build long, rewarding careers with us.  And the emphasis really should be on the ‘long bit’.

It’s one thing to bring more people into the highways sector, but we need them to stay with us.  A recent CIHT study highlighted that an ageing workforce is a significant problem, as experienced staff retire and take years of expertise with them. 

Making progress on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) goals is arguably easier for entry level roles.  At FM Conway, we’ve certainly seen positive results here.  43% of our apprentices are women, while 47% are from ethnically diverse backgrounds – these are all people we hope will become future managers, directors or even board members.    

When it comes to how we approach retention, we’ve taken our cue directly from staff, creating employee forums that allow people to directly feed back to us what they think.  We’re tackling perceived barriers to progression, supporting high-performing individuals from ethnic minority groups through our Great Leaders career development programme.  We’re also working to keep women in our business, introducing a maternity ‘back to work bonus’ which has seen 100% of new mothers returning since 2020. 

Making highways diverse will put the industry on a more sustainable footing in the long term.  There’s no silver bullet to delivering EDI, but working with people to understand and to act on the obstacles, challenges and opportunities from their point of view is always a good place to start.