How academia and industry can work together to meet the demand for housing in the UK

A recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Timber Industries (APPG) has emphasised the key role the timber industry can play in assisting the Government in meeting targets for housebuilding. The UK timber industry contributes around £10bn value to the UK economy as well as employing over 200,000 people. The report claims that using timber in construction is crucial to meeting the target of zero emissions and the ever-growing housing demands within the UK. The Government has been urged to implement the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) by increasing the use of timber within construction.

The CCC state in their recent UK Housing: Fit for the Future? report that “The technology and knowledge to create high quality, low carbon and resilient homes exists, but current policies and standards are failing to drive either the scale or the pace of change needed”. By using timber as a material in house building from a sustainability point of view, it is a great material with environmental benefits.

The CCC estimate that if timber was used in the build of 270,000 new homes, the amount of carbon stored in UK homes can increase to 3Mt, this is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions emitted from 636,943 vehicles in one year. A report from Wood for Food, The Timber Accord, 2014, estimates that using one timber framed window instead of a PVC-U can save approximately one and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide per home, this is the equivalent of driving over 5,000 in a family car.

The Timber industry can work with the Government to build more homes in an environmentally sustainable way. Timber has a lower environmental impact as it requires less energy to produce than competing materials and timber absorbs carbon. A benefit of building in timber is the reduction in carbon emissions by transportation as it is far lighter and therefore less dust and associated health problems.

Building these carbon friendly timber homes requires skilled workers, especially in this day and age with the skills shortages in the construction industry, this was identified by the Farmer Review, 2016, which stated there had been an underinvestment in training and development within the industry.

It has been recommended that the local Government should include a requirement to employ a minimum number of apprentices and a minimum level of training into local planning policy frameworks. School leavers should have access to apprenticeship programmes which are relevant to the construction industry with support by local employers, this should be enforced by the Education and Skills Agency.

Due to the ever-growing demand of housing in the United Kingdom, we need to train 195,000 new skilled workers in the British construction industry within the next seven years. The Construction Industry Training Board has noted this equates to a 40% increase in the home-building workforce and needs to be met by the mid-2020s.

It is recommended that the Government should highlight the need for construction apprentices and invest in developing construction courses in order to meet the skills requirement needed to build more homes.  As well as to fill the skill gaps in housing design, construction and in the installation of new technologies.

NPTC Group of Colleges are well underway with identifying what industry are asking for in terms of skilled workers and what is being delivered academically, and are bridging the gap between onsite training and classroom learning. One issue which has been recognised is that students are being trained to be ‘too general’ in terms of skill to meet the specific needs of what is required from the timber trade within the housebuilding sector.

By working with British housebuilding company Persimmon plc, NPTC Group of Colleges has formed an onsite training partnership which is enabling students to learn the practical skills which are important to the timber trade and are in demand by industry. This training is delivering high quality apprentices and the training is much quicker and efficient due to video observation and recorded evidence sessions, by monitoring remotely this enables more time to learn onsite. This is allowing NPTC Group of Colleges to provide an industry ready workforce. This approach is now being used by NVQ assessors for all their construction apprenticeships which are conducted through NPTC Group of Colleges and is a step in the direction of providing an industry ready workforce.

NPTC Group of Colleges are also working on the National Modular and Off-site Project, and are currently training four lecturers to deliver the appropriate skills in Wales. Industry involvement and partnership is critical, so to underpin this idea, the College are partnering with SO Modular in a training academy approach on their new site in Neath. This will put Wales at the top of the skills delivery challenge for the sector and create employment opportunities for the future.

With a need for construction skilled individuals, NPTC Group of Colleges continue to develop and train future industry and have recently received recognition of excellence from The Worshipful Company of Plaisterers, winning the much-coveted John G Robinson Trophy, presented to the best overall performing college in the UK.

The Worshipful Company of Plaisterers is one of the ancient Livery Companies of the City of London. The Company encourages excellence in all aspects of plastering, closely supporting and promoting the plastering trade through a number of initiatives, including ‘The Plaisterers’ Training Awards’. The Awards recognise the contribution of training colleges and independent training providers to all aspects of training, education and life-long learning, all vital to the future of plastering and drylining within the UK construction industry.

With the skills gaps prominent within the construction industry, upskilling your current employees to teach them new skills can be very beneficial. By upskilling your team, this can result in a more varied skill set and with the various funding streams available, training and development needs can be met without affecting the bottom line of your business.