Offsite construction could revolutionise the construction industry and provide a solution to the UK housing shortage, but only if the sector develops the right skills, a new Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) report has shown.
Faster, Smarter, More Efficient: Building Skills for Offsite Construction shows that 42% of construction industry employers with over 100 staff expect to use offsite methods in five years’ time. When asked about the use of offsite-specific construction materials and products, 100% said they expected the use of precast concrete panels to increase; 91% anticipated the use of precast concrete frame to rise.
At present however, offsite construction accounts for just 10% of industry output.
The report – which follows the recommendations set out in industry expert Mark Farmer’s government-backed review of UK construction – also reveals that nearly 50% of construction industry clients expect the use of offsite construction to increase over the next five years.
Offsite processes save time and money and can improve quality through pre-fabrication of components – from panels to fully fitted rooms.
Mark Farmer said, “This report comes at a crucial time for the construction industry. The urgency for modernisation has never been greater, set against an insidious backdrop of an ageing workforce and increasing concerns about the impact of Brexit.
“Any strategic shift towards pre-manufacturing and offsite construction creates an immediate requirement to define our future skills needs through collaboration between industry, educators, training providers and government.
“This is crucial to ensuring we can transition to a higher productivity, digitally enabled industry which inherently attracts more of the young talent we so desperately need. It should also set out clear opportunities for the existing construction workforce and indeed workers from other industries to reskill through a new family of career pathways.”
Steve Radley, Director of Policy at CITB, said, “There is massive potential for offsite construction. The government recently announced an additional £1.4bn of funding for affordable homes, with an increase in offsite construction set as an objective, representing a clear opportunity for growth in this area. That’s why CITB has set out a clear strategy within this report to show how we’re going to work closely with industry over the next five years to push the offsite agenda forward.
“The greatest potential currently lies within the housing and commercial sectors, where mass customisation can create the buildings we need more quickly and to higher standards. There are also opportunities to bring the benefits of offsite to large-scale infrastructure projects – some high profile examples include HS2 and Hinkley Point, which are already using offsite techniques.”
The report outlines six key skills areas related to offsite construction: digital design; estimating/commercial; offsite manufacturing; logistics; site management and integration; onsite placement and assembly.
Increasingly, workers will need the skills to move between offsite and onsite environments and so the training for these six areas must evolve to meet the changing demand.
Currently, significant barriers exist which prevent the delivery of training and skills to meet the needs of these crucial areas. These include:
- Existing training does not include the required offsite content;
- Lack of awareness and suitability of available training and qualifications – companies are delivering their own ‘in-house’ training, which leads to non-standard approaches;
- A shortage of qualified training providers and assessors.
Radley added, “Successful offsite management hinges on the effective integration of both onsite and offsite functions – and this requires a comprehensive understanding of both aspects. Our next steps will focus on the delivery of the required employer training, knowledge and soft skills, tailored specifically to the six key areas identified in the report. This will also include a review of the available training and qualifications to make sure we address any gaps and issues.
“We will also work with other stakeholders – such as in design and manufacturing – to apply existing training in a construction context. We will step up our promotion of the career opportunities offsite can offer, emphasising digital skills, to attract a wider pool of people into these key roles.”
CITB’s recommendations and activities for the delivery of offsite training are as follows.
- In partnership with employers, lead a review of National Occupation Standards (NOS) to identify the need for new standards for roles that are core to the CITB scope (i.e. predominately site based);
- Work with the design, engineering and manufacturing sectors to apply the standards developed in these areas to a construction context, to support key offsite functions;
- Work with industry to develop a competency framework for offsite construction, focusing on attitudes and behaviours, to embed in training for all functions;
- Help to promote career opportunities in offsite using existing avenues such as Go Construct;
- Work alongside other bodies, such as the Construction Leadership Council, to drive innovation and create ‘centres of excellence’ for skills and knowledge.