Off-site manufacture for construction: Building for change Contents

Chapter 4: Skills

Skills gap

61.As we have noted, there is a growing labour and skills shortage in the construction sector in the UK. This could be exacerbated by Brexit unless it is urgently addressed. While off-site manufacture could lessen the labour shortage (see paragraph 27), the different skills required for manufacturing must be developed.

62.This should be done alongside continuing investment in traditional building skills. There was concern from witnesses such as the Building Alliance that “Young people will be deterred from taking up vital trades such as bricklaying leading to long term skill shortages with no opportunity to recover”.66 There will always be demand for buildings constructed through traditional methods of construction, so it is imperative that training for skills needed for off-site manufacture does not displace training schemes for skills such as bricklaying.

Skills required for off-site manufacture

63.We set out below the skills required for off-site manufacture to work effectively, but which our evidence showed are lacking in the UK labour market. It may be the case that part time training and education opportunities can help provide some of these skills.

Digital skills

64.Witnesses agreed that digital skills are essential when using a Design for Manufacture and Assembly approach. Ryder Architecture told us that “Knowledge and understanding of digital technologies used for offsite construction is still limited. A better understanding and use by design teams and contractor teams will provide better opportunities for quality and appearance”.67

65.Low Carbon Journey agreed, and emphasised the improvement in skills needed for providers and clients:

“There is a real opportunity to link more closely with the digital design, modelling and 3D output to support the final quality of the delivered building. This involves an uplift in skills (and culture) throughout the construction chain, including clients, to realise the benefits”.68

66.A secondary benefit of attracting a more diverse and digitally skilled workforce to the construction sector was articulated by NHBC (National House Building Council):

“Greater use in off-site construction by house builders will demand new digital skills for roles such as BIM technicians as well as changing the image of a construction worker to be a specialist working in a comfortable, controlled environment. Doing more to promote the awareness of such roles in schools and colleges, for example through closer partnerships with employers, could be an opportunity to attract younger, more diverse entrants into the industry.”69

Jamie Ratcliff told us that the skills required for these new jobs are likely to appeal more to women than traditional construction jobs.70

Site implementation skills

67.Although manufactured off-site, buildings and infrastructure must still be assembled on-site. The precision-designed approach of the factory can be negated if the components are installed badly.

68.Steve Radley, Director of Policy at the Construction Industry Training Board, said that off-site manufacture “creates new roles for on-site assembly and there is a lot more emphasis on precision, using things like BIM, logistics management communication”.71

Technical planning and collaborative skills

69.A wide range of further technical planning and collaborative skills are required for the whole-system approach associated with off-site manufacture. These are not required for traditional construction, which tends to be more fragmented.

70.Osborne Group Holdings Limited told us that “The technical personnel will need greater integration skills at a higher level in technical planning and development of the solutions”.72 Phil Wilbraham, Expansion Programme Director at Heathrow Airport, recommended an emphasis on “logistics and assembly rather than … trades coming to site to finish things off”.73

71.The Chartered Institute of Building explained the need for flexibility of skills among the off-site construction workforce:

“Managers will need to manage a greater number of variables and diverse teams, bringing together on- and off-site activities. Other hybrid roles may develop, such as an overlap between managerial and professional levels, or technical sales roles where commercial and technical skills overlap. Site managers will need to deepen their logistics competencies. This suggests that behavioural development is as important as skills development for education and training providers. There will be a need for leaders and managers to develop softer collaborative skills such as problem solving, team working and communication alongside their technical competencies.”74

‘Gatekeeper’ skills

72.None of the above will have any effect unless clients are aware of and receptive to the idea of using off-site manufacturing for construction projects. Simon Rawlinson, Construction Industry Council, told us:

“There is a really important role in upskilling the gatekeepers, the people who have the first contact with the client, whether that is a lawyer or a consultant, who shapes their thinking at the early stages … so when that client meets an inspirational contractor, for example, they are receptive to somebody coming up with an innovative idea that says, “We could do it this way”.”75

Procurement skills

73.Chapter 6 focuses on issues with the current procurement models and the biases they create against commissioning off-site construction projects. If procurement models change, the people who commission projects, such as civil servants, should be trained to understand the new balance between procurement and risk. Andrew Wolstenholme told us:

“We should also consider the skills of a civil servant who is presented with a procurement problem and a risk profile, and who needs to understand them. I am delighted to say that the Saíd Business School is providing some sort of skills opportunity for civil servants, not just to be good at delivering policy but at understanding how to manage portfolios of risk.”76

This will be even more important if the recommendations we make in Chapter 6 are adopted.

Skills training

74.The Government has announced that, from 2020, new technical qualifications called ‘T levels’ will be introduced, with construction being one of the first. T levels aim to transform technical education in the UK and offer young people the opportunity to study a technical qualification at level 3, which is equivalent to A levels. Time is short for the construction sector to influence the content of the qualification so that the next generation are equipped with the skills needed for modern methods of construction.

75.Steve Radley emphasised that companies in the construction sector should be involved in developing the new qualification:

“it is up to employers to work closely with government and training providers to make sure that the right content is developed in training … One of the key elements is ensuring that we have sufficient employers that are able to provide work placements for three months in those areas.”77

He also told us that employers should “join together and ensure that they are training to common standards, having set out the skills that are needed.”78

76.Mr Radley said that, to develop the skills needed for off-site manufacture, the construction T level should focus “on multiskilling so that, particularly in the first year of training, you get an understanding of a greater range of trades”.79

77.Additionally, we heard that the Apprenticeship Levy, a mandatory scheme whereby larger companies pay for the training of their apprentices, needs reforming. MOBIE (Ministry of Building Innovation and Education), an educational charity, told us that “there is currently no approved standard suitable for OSM or innovative digital design training courses. This means that companies effectively have to pay twice in order to provide this training, as the lack of approved standard obstructs the ability to draw down from the levy”.80

78.Andrew Wolstenholme said that under the Apprenticeship Levy “some organisations will be required to pay at least 1% toward apprentices. We are saying let us work out a better way of spending that 1%. That is no new money; it is smarter ways of directing that 1% towards the skills we need for the future”.81

79.The Government announced several initiatives in the construction Sector Deal, including working with the construction sector to “co-ordinate the development of new apprenticeship standards across the sector” and developing “a single industry platform and portal to support construction careers”.82

Conclusions and recommendations

80.The Government must work with the construction sector to design new qualifications to close the current skills gap. This should be done primarily through the Construction Leadership Council as the industry lead body, but other industry bodies should be encouraged to engage in the process as well.

81.The Government must ensure that young people entering the workplace are equipped with the digital skills needed for modern methods of construction, including off-site manufacture. It is important that this is reflected in post-school training provision, but also in the school curriculum so that the next generation have the basic skills necessary to undertake more specialist training.

82.Perceptions of the types of jobs available in the construction sector are based on the skills needed for on-site construction. We welcome the creation of the single industry platform and portal announced in the Construction Sector Deal to support construction careers and promote the new types of careers in construction to the next generation.

83.We support the Government’s plans to create new apprenticeship standards across the sector. Alongside this, the Government, with the construction sector, must re-assess the wider operation of the Apprenticeship Levy in the construction sector and make the necessary changes to ensure the money is best spent to benefit the long-term viability of the sector.

66 Written evidence from the Building Alliance (OMC0033)

67 Written evidence from Ryder Architecture (OMC0067)

68 Written evidence from Low Carbon Journey (OMC0005)

69 Written evidence from NHBC (OMC0021)

70 Q 14 (Jamie Ratcliff)

71 Q 27 (Steve Radley)

72 Written evidence from Osborne Group Holdings Limited (OMC0023)

73 Q 3 (Phil Wilbraham)

74 Written evidence from the Chartered Institute of Building (OMC0040)

75 56 (Simon Rawlinson)

76 Q 62 (Andrew Wolstenholme)

77 Q 27 (Steve Radley)

78 Q 29 (Steve Radley)

79 Q 27 (Steve Radley)

80 Written evidence from MOBIE (Ministry of Building Innovation and Education) (OMC0073)

81 Q 59 (Andrew Wolstenholme)

82 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Construction Sector Deal (5 July 2018): [accessed 5 July 2018]

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