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A new report from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) claims that offsite construction has the potential to revolutionise the construction industry and even provide a solution to housing shortage that grips the UK. There is a caveat to the claim that the changes can only come about if the construction sector invests in the training to develop the right kind of skills.

The research white paper, ‘Faster Smarter, More Efficient: Building Skills for Offsite Construction’ revealed that 42% of construction firms that employ over 100 staff believe they will be using offsite methods in five years’ time.

In terms of specific products, 100% of the companies surveyed said they expected the use of precast concrete panels to increase, with 91% predicting a rise in the use of precast concrete frame.

Currently, only 10% of the industry’s output comes from the offsite process. The advantages of using offsite construction methods are greater efficiencies in time and cost. Also, with on site time greatly reduced, disruption is minimised along with the common hazards associated with working on a building site.

The report, which follows the recommendations laid out in industry expert Mark Farmer’s government-backed review of UK construction, revealed that almost half of construction industry clients expect to see the use of offsite construction to increase over the next five years.

Mr Farmer welcomed the report, saying it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the industry as it faces up to replacing an ageing workforce and the growing need to modernise its processes. He commented: “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 re-skill through a new family of career pathways.”

Steve Radley, Director of Policy at CITB, said the potential for offsite construction is huge, particularly in the housing and commercial sectors.
He said: “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. 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.”

When it comes to solving the disparity between the advances of this building process and the skills to deliver it, the CITB’s report states it will be crucial for workers to develop the skills to move between offsite and onsite environments.

The research highlights six core skills areas required to achieve this – digital design; estimating/commercial; offsite manufacturing; logistics; site management and integration and onsite placement and assembly. However, the CITB believe that the construction industry must overcome “significant barriers” to achieve the delivery of the skills training. These include a gap in existing training with regards to the required offsite content; a lack of awareness and suitability of available training and qualifications and a shortage of training providers and assessors.

Mr Radley said the CITB would continue to work closely with the construction sector over the next five years to move forward with the offsite agenda.

He said: “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.”

Source – UK Construction Online

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