With a more buoyant construction market, it is those firms continuing to invest in training that are best placed to help housing providers bring their homes up to modern standards.
Billy Baird, Projects Director at roofing and cladding services provider Marley Contract Services, looks at how the company has managed to maintain its skills base.
THE skills shortage is particularly acute in the construction industry and encompasses a wide range of disciplines from bricklaying through to plumbing.
A lack of investment in skills has been an ongoing issue for construction trades and when the downturn occurred in 2007, some companies stopped investing in training altogether.
As many of us know, this meant some workers migrated out of construction into other sectors.
The construction sector was badly affected by the downturn with around 400,000 people leaving the industry since 2008.
This, combined with a general lack of investment in training for those remaining due to the economic conditions, has exacerbated the situation.
As a result, it is estimated that around 20% more construction managers, surveyors, electricians and other trades will be needed to meet demand over the next four years than were needed from 2010-13. As a result, house building targets are unlikely to be met.
When we talk about housing targets it is natural to think in terms of number of new units built.
However, with over 20 million existing houses in the UK, it is the level of skills available to carry out planned refurbishment programmes that is the real concern.
If there is a lack of skills in the new build sector it stands to reason that the same applies to upgrades.
In some respects, this is more worrying, because it is often the most vulnerable in society who live in housing in urgent need of improvement.
So, as an industry what are we doing to address this shortfall in skills?
Considering it takes two to three years to become a fully qualified roofer, you soon realise this isn’t a quick fix solution. Indeed, it is those companies that continued to invest in skills during the downturn that are now best placed to help housing providers bring their existing homes up to modern standards.
Set against this is the fact that most homes in the UK fall short of current building regulation requirements in terms of thermal performance.
The issue, therefore, facing the industry is how to upgrade these properties, while facing a general skills shortage.
TRAINING TO GAIN
Training for us has always been a central part of what we do – both internally, and here there is an ongoing programme for both our apprentices, new and long serving staff – and within the communities in which we work.
We recruit a number of apprentices on each of the large refurbishment programmes in which our team works.
That not only means we have an ongoing stream of new talent coming into our business, but ensures a lasting economic legacy in local communities.
For instance, we were recently appointed Principal Contractor by North Ayrshire Council on a scheme to over clad 290 properties.
As well as improving energy efficiency of the homes in Kilbirnie, Beith, Dalry, Ardrossan and Irvine by adding insulated render to the exterior and overcladding, we made training and bringing new skills to the communities a central part of our approach.
This involved recruiting a large number of apprentices and adult trainees, which aligned with the council’s Term Contract Apprentice and Trainee Recruitment Scheme.
This required us to recruit one person from the local community in which we worked for every £1m of issued funds, an initiative called ‘One in a Million’
We exceeded this requirement as we appointed four local apprentices and seven local trainee operatives.
We also initiated a new apprentice and trainee system with their sub contractors, which led to recruitment of a further seven local operatives.
This made a total of 18 people that we allocated time and resources to training to a standard that gave them a full set of transferable, lifelong skills.
It is doubly satisfying to know that these skills will continue to benefit the community long after the refurbishments have been completed.
Our commitment to training existing members of staff is ongoing, too.
We view the fact that we have a large team of roofing and cladding professionals, with transferable skills, a key asset.
By doing that we avoid bottlenecks on site because each member of our team can turn their hand to the work required – a crucial part of being able to meet ever shorter build schedules on site.
Bringing the 20 million-plus housing stock in the UK up to modern thermal performance standards requires a trained workforce, which means they will possess the skills necessary to tackle the many and varied needs of the refurbishment sector.
Take just one example, the fact that until relatively recently each house was built to different construction methods and standards.
That means with a refurbishment property, you are never quite sure what you will find until you carry out a survey.
Having a team of highly trained professionals means we are confident of being able to deal with whatever the survey uncovers.
In that respect, refurbishing existing homes presents just as great a challenge as meeting the requirement for more new build homes, which is facing a significant shortfall.
Companies that continue to invest in training are therefore not just demonstrating a confidence in the economy but are helping to turn ordinary community housing programmes into something extraordinary.