Construction is worth about £90 billion to the UK. But as the first green shoots of recovery start to grow, are we missing a trick? Are there alternative ways of building or new technologies and materials that will help us build faster, more efficiently and sustainably?
Offsite is one way of doing things differently. It shouldn’t really be described as a new method of construction – it’s been around since Roman times. What is new about it today is that it’s increasingly technology driven with prefabricated components being manufactured and assembled in factories before moving onsite. Around 12 per cent of construction takes place offsite in the UK, with the most recent estimates putting the value of this at around £1.5 billion. Sounds impressive, until you realise that it has the potential to achieve as much as £6 billion.
New UKCES research finds that offsite construction offers some key advantages over traditional ‘brick and block’ construction. Using offsite can slash build times and improve efficiency, which would be invaluable in the context of today’s pressured housing market, deliver near fault free buildings and reduce waste. The fact that the manufacture and assembly of building materials takes place in weatherproof factories is an added plus as it can be miserable working on a wet and cold building site in winter.
However, the ability of the construction industry to capitalise on these opportunities is hampered by a lack of people with the right skills. One reason is that the core skills for offsite are different to traditional construction. There’s more emphasis on multi-skilling and collaboration within offsite job roles. It’s important for people in the industry to appreciate how principles of design, construction, manufacturing and engineering come together to create a finished building.
Plus it’s key to have skilled project managers to oversee the movement of materials from offsite factories to assembly, together with people who can sell and market these new, innovative materials and ways of building – often to quite skeptical financiers.
Employers I’ve talked to for this research considered the current qualification and training offer for offsite to be largely inadequate. This is a significant problem, since should the demand for offsite increase, there is a real chance that we will not have the skills in the UK to exploit its full potential.
Employers are responding, with many offsite companies creating their own in house bespoke training, but this provision is fragmented.
The global construction market is forecast to grow by over 70 per cent in 2025. Without investment in the right skills we risk being left behind – leaving space for others to step in and reap the rewards.