Georgina Bigam, skills development and capacity building expert, on train travel in France, the excitement of joining Crossrail, and dancing in the kitchen!…
Interview by Steve Long
Georgina Bigam was born and raised in Loughborough. She has more than 20 years of experience in public and private sector skills development, employment, education and training. She spent over five years at Crossrail where she helped to establish the US$18 million Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA), a purpose-built training facility. As Skills for Life Manager at London’s Islington Council, she played a key role in the development of a national strategy in England to improve adult literacy, language and numeracy. She studied at Leeds Beckett University and University College London’s Institute of Education and now lives in Quorn, Leicestershire.
Which project that you’ve worked on during your career are you most proud of?
Crossrail. I was so excited to get the job and working there didn’t disappoint me. I loved learning about the industry and was constantly amazed to see how brilliant the people working there were. It felt great to be part of such a large and successful team. The skills and employment agenda was a success down to so many people, working both in the client organisation and within the main works contractors and supply chain. It truly was a team effort.
If you could offer a client one piece of advice based on your specific area of expertise, what would it be?
You won’t regret the investment you make in people. Whether that’s giving them your own time, time off, or time spent training. If you put people first, they will repay you. Too often, workforce skills development is seen as an add-on or a ‘nice-to-have’. I firmly believe that a properly structured skills strategy with a complementary training and development plan supports staff motivation, well-being and retention as well as the delivery of other strategic objectives, such as health and safety, and quality. So, my advice is to start planning a skills strategy at the earliest opportunity, at the same time that all other elements of a project are being planned.
“If you put people first, they will repay you. Too often, workforce skills development is seen as an add-on or a ‘nice-tohave’.”
What is the biggest challenge that the global infrastructure sector is currently facing with regard to skills development and training?
Ensuring a diverse pipeline of skilled people to work in the industry. A project can succeed or fail depending on its ability to have people with the right skills at the right time. That may sound simple, but a huge amount of work needs to go into ensuring that it can happen. With the proper focus on a skills strategy before the project begins, it can support a project in many ways; for example, by attracting funding and investment, drawing people to work on the project, providing a skilled workforce for future projects and by helping to build positive public relations for the project, both within the local community, and local and national government. The impact on social sustainability is huge.
Large projects provide a unique opportunity to offer employment and training to the local community and have the clout and leverage to make lasting change. The possibilities for change are so exciting, which is why I feel so passionately about it.
What was your most rewarding experience on the Crossrail project?
Definitely all of the people I met. It was such a privilege to be meeting new people from all over the world, with a diverse range of experiences, skills and world views. Everyone was there to get the same job done, so the sense of team working was great. We had some fun along the way too!
“A project can succeed or fail depending on its ability to have people with the right skills at the right time. That may sound simple, but a huge amount of work needs to go into ensuring that it can happen.”
What is your favourite rail journey, and why?
I love travelling by train and didn’t own a car until recently, so I used to go everywhere by train, both in the UK and abroad. I have very fond memories of taking the sleeper train from Boulogne-sur-Mer to Avignon in France as a child at the beginning of the summer holidays. We would eat a picnic tea on our laps, then watch the scenery from the windows in the corridor before falling asleep to the sound of the train on the rails, knowing that we would wake up and be on holiday for the next six weeks. Most years we drove to the South of France, so taking the train instead was a real treat!
If you could travel on any rail system in the world where you’ve never been, where would you go?
It would have to be the Reunification Express in Vietnam. I’ve always wanted to go to Vietnam and this journey takes in the country north to south and has a bit of everything along the way.
“Large projects provide a unique opportunity to offer employment and training to the local community and have the clout and leverage to make lasting change.”
My all-time favourite track is …
My iTunes history says that my most frequently played songs are the ‘Moana’ soundtrack, Beyoncé and Harry Styles, which I think reflects the kitchen dancing me and my girls do! So if I had to choose just one song right now, I think it would be ‘Elusive’ by Lianne La Havas, from her album ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ . . . a moment of calm after all that dancing!