Modern methods of construction Contents

5Workforce and training

45.The construction industry workforce faces numerous problems which were set out in the 2016 report commissioned by the Construction Leadership Council. The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model, entitled ‘Modernise or Die’, identifies ten critical symptoms of failure and poor performance across the industry:

46.The report is clear the industry will not be able to deliver the infrastructure or homes this country needs unless it quickly modernises and takes advantage of new digital technology and off-site methods of construction and attracts new workers into the sector.

Workforce shortages

47.The country faces a lack of workers with skills such as bricklaying and carpentry, necessary to build homes using traditional techniques. The industry has an ageing workforce and only 12% of workers are women.72 It is failing to attract young people in the numbers needed to increase housing output, due in part to a long-standing reputation for poor safety standards and old-fashioned ways of working.73

48.Based on the average age of the current workforce and numbers of new entrants, the Farmer Review predicts the construction workforce could shrink by 20–25% over the next decade.74 The need to attract new workers into the sector is even more pressing due to the uncertainty around the future jobs market following the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. According to the Design Council, 8% of construction workers in the UK are from other EU countries and in London the figure is 28%.75 Developers said the lack of skilled workers was one of the main reasons for them to try out more off-site techniques. Steven Boyes from Barratt Developments said:

We recognise that we need to increase volumes in the industry. We will not be able to do it using traditional skills, so the only way we will be able to achieve that is by using more MMC.76

This view was repeated in many written evidence submissions which listed a number of benefits MMC would deliver to the workforce, such as:

49.While there is potential for factories in areas of high unemployment, this must be balanced with obligations to use local labour, which could be imposed by local authorities under section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990. Alun Macey from Pocket Living told us:

The biggest challenge we have is probably the section 106 condition about using local labour. If you take a 50% portion of the construction and you put it in a location that is far away from the build location, it is obviously going to be a challenge. That is hard to overcome.

The 2017 Housing White Paper said the Government is “taking steps to address skills shortages by growing the construction workforce”.83 Some of these measures will be described later in this chapter.

50.Housing developers identified the lack of skilled workers as one of the main constraints to building more homes using traditional techniques. The workforce will have to increase rapidly if it is to deliver 300,000 homes per year. Adopting more MMC could help to reduce the total number of workers required but will not be a panacea for the workforce shortages. If EU workers choose to leave, or the UK fails to attract as many EU workers in future, current shortages will be exacerbated unless new people are trained in both modern and traditional techniques and brought into the workforce.

51.Adopting more MMC will take some of the work off-site and provide opportunities for more digital working which could help to attract young people into the sector and increase capacity. However, witnesses were clear that traditional techniques will continue to be used alongside MMC to build homes and therefore we also need more workers with traditional skills. Other workforce benefits such as providing new employment opportunities in parts of the country with higher levels of unemployment, could be achieved through strategic positioning of new MMC factories, however, this will have to be balanced with planning obligations to use local labour.

Apprenticeships and training

52.Apprenticeships have traditionally played a key role in delivering skills for the construction industry. In its strategic plan 2018/19 - 2022/23, Homes England called upon industry actors to become ‘partners’ and offer more skills training for construction workers.84 The Minister of State for Housing told us the Government’s target is for 25,000 apprentices per year across the construction industry but he also conceded that will not be enough.85 We need a mixed approach to delivering homes so apprentices should learn traditional building techniques such as bricklaying and carpentry as well as receiving training in modern methods and digital technology, if we are going to modernise the construction industry.

53.The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) is tasked with delivering skills for the industry and construction companies, including housing developers, pay a levy to the Board to cover its costs. However, Jennie Daly from Taylor Wimpey said: “At times, housebuilders have felt that the CITB has not been particularly focused on the specific skills that housebuilding, as opposed to general construction, requires.”86 Instead, Taylor Wimpey run their own apprenticeship schemes but said the Government and other training bodies can assist. She added: “The HBF [Home Builders Federation] has a homes-skills training body, which has helped in raising the profile of the rich career that housebuilding can offer.”87 Barratt Developments told us they are training apprentices in new skills such as erection crews for installing MMC homes. The Design Council said the CITB has a further challenge to reskill the current workforce.88

54.The Government has worked with employers and businesses to design a new set of qualifications called T Levels which will be equivalent to three A Levels and provide students with a technical education which prepares them for work in a particular industry. T Levels will take two years to complete and will include a placement with an employer. The T Level in design surveying and planning, is designed for jobs in the construction industry and is due to be launched with the first tranche in September 2020.89

55.The Introduction of T Levels which are equivalent to A Levels will help to overcome some of the reputational problems the industry faces, raise the profile of the jobs available and hopefully encourage more young people into the sector.

56.The Government must ensure skills programmes, apprenticeship schemes and the new T Level give learners the skills they need for both traditional techniques and MMC and encourages more young people into the sector. Homes England must ensure their partners are delivering necessary skills for a modern workforce and the Construction Industry Training Board must ensure it is delivering the skills necessary for homebuilding. It should also support the reskilling of the current workforce so they can contribute to a modern construction industry.

Research and development

57.Significant research and development (R&D) is necessary to develop the techniques that will drive modernisation in the construction sector. The Construction Leadership Council’s Innovation in Buildings workstream identified sixteen physical and virtual organisations to form a network of ‘Centres of Excellence’ to share knowledge and best practice and support smart construction in the supply of housing.90 The network includes the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Sheffield which is developing automated techniques for off-site construction to improve productivity and quality in the sector.91 The AMRC received funding from Innovate UK, through the High Value Manufacturing Catapult which brings together business and academia to develop advanced manufacturing solutions to commercial problems.92 These networks should be utilised to coordinate the testing and standardisation of MMC processes and components to develop products that comply with the building regulations. Academic institutions in these networks should also deliver the advanced skills necessary for MMC. The AMRC has a training centre that provides learners with the practical and academic skills for a career in engineering and manufacturing. Homes England should work with the AMRC and other training centres to develop skills programmes that deliver the specific skills required for off-site modular construction.

58.Fergus Harradence, Deputy Director for Construction at the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy told us that the Transforming Construction Programme is investing in projects that work with higher education institutions:

through the R&D budget that we have over the four years of the programme, we are supporting innovative projects that are led by large and small companies in collaboration with higher education institutions, technology and innovation centres and other organisations. Again, this is all about the development, the commercialisation and the demonstration of these technologies.93

59.We welcome the steps the Government has taken to support innovations in advanced manufacturing for the construction of homes. The networks of catapults and centres of excellence which bring businesses and academia together to develop advanced manufacturing solutions, should be coordinated with the central Transforming Construction Programme and the Construction Innovation Hub to ensure each has a specific area of focus. The Government should utilise these networks to coordinate the testing and standardisation of MMC processes and components to develop innovative products that comply with the building regulations.

60.The MHCLG MMC Joint Industry Working Group should extend its remit to look at advanced skills provision. It should work with Homes England, the AMRC, and other training centres to develop skills programmes that provide learners with the specific skills required for the off-site manufacture of MMC homes.

72 Royal Institute of British Architects (MMC 0030)

75 Design Council [MMC0044]

77 E.g. NHBC [MMC0032], London Assembly Planning Committee (MMC0022)

78 E.g., Buildoffsite (MMC0034), Housing Forum [MMC0045]

79 E.g. Homes for the North [MMC008]

80 Home Builders Federation (MMC0011)

81 Savills (MMC0024)

82 E.g. Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (MMC0040)

83 Department for Communities and Local Government, Fixing our broken housing market, February 2017, p18

84 Homes England, Strategic plan 2018/19 - 2022/23, October 2018, p8

88 Design Council [MMC0044]

89 Department of Education, Guidance: ’Introduction of T Levels’, 19 May 2019

90 Construction Leadership Council, ‘Centres of Excellence’ in the UK, accessed 14 June 2019

91 Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre/ The University of Sheffield, ‘Building a new future with offsite construction’, 4 July 2018, accessed 19 June 2019

92 High Value Manufacturing Catapult, ‘Catalyst for the future growth and success of manufacturing in the UK, accessed 17 June 2019

Published: 3 July 2019