New housing and future construction skills: report

Independent Short Life Working Group report considering new and future housing construction skills and adapting and modernising for growth.

Chair Foreword

The house building sector provides a significant contribution to Scotland’s economy, environment and society. Over the last decade innovation and improvements in building performance has resulted in some new homes having energy bills which are 15% of the average second hand home duel fuel energy costs. Carbon reductions have reduced 75% compared to 1990 baseline levels and site waste and landfill has been reduced through increased use of offsite construction approaches. Community benefits can be wide ranging including employment, skills investment, sub-contracting companies and being the largest non-public sector contributor for new schools, roads, infrastructure and community facilities. Housing delivery encompasses a wide range of stakeholders involving private house builders, developers, large contractors, SMEs, housing associations and local authorities.

Whether through the number of people directly employed, and the indirect jobs which are supported, its reach is across Scotland both urban and rural. Ensuring there is the correct supply of appropriate skilled staff to deliver the required housing and future types of technologies for design, management and construction is critically important. Our communities depend upon the delivery of new homes which has legacy into future generations. During the course of the past eleven months I have had the opportunity to meet many different stakeholders and organisations who contribute so much to this sector. To hear from SMEs and large companies of their plans and ambitions for the future provided helpful insight towards this report. It has also provided the opportunity to listen to issues and barriers which may directly or indirectly affect skills development and future supply.

The current high employment levels in Scotland creates a very competitive environment with other industry sectors to attract future entrants. Early engagement in primary and secondary schools, better use of social media to promote the sector and creating a more diverse workforce could help attract new entrants. Fairness and investment in skills, as outlined by the Taylor Report on Modern working practices, can be a key attribute in attracting future workforce.

In the short term there are skills supply shortages and an ever pressing need for more homes to be built. Scotland has led many of the changes in the UK for offsite construction, particularly for timber based homes. Companies have invested in manufacturing facilities for offsite construction for new homes but they also require known future activity pipelines to support housing growth and future skills investment. Additional training support both for new entrants and upskilling existing staff is required both for offsite and onsite.

The new build housing sector is on a journey and over the next 10-20 years will be transformative in terms of the types of technologies and homes it will build. The pace of technology in other sectors has been faster but we are now in a transitioning period for house building and wider construction sectors. Given the range of potential changes in future new home power supplies, smart technologies, energy saving devices, EV charging and self-powered homes the coming period presents challenges but also exciting opportunities for new skill sets, workforce diversity, new entrants and their careers. Investment in our colleges to update and integrate new training facilities for the technologies ahead is required. This is an opportunity to adapt and modernise and to reach out to attract young people to have a future career in the house building sector.

At the same time with growing offsite construction and new technologies there needs to be a balance. The industry still requires a supply of expert site and craft skills. As such the industry, skills funders and government are at a confluence of having to address both areas. For the sector to grow and deliver the 28,000 new homes per annum needed over the next decade will require all key stakeholders to work together. Investment in skills supply and upskilling in both private and public sector is required.

Foundation, modern and graduate apprenticeships now provide a suite of entry routes which enables in-work training, mentoring and career development. Given the number of retirees in the industry and public sector over the next 5 to 10 years such apprenticeship routes enable knowledge transfer between generations and are well aligned to the sector’s needs. The strong support by the sector towards graduate apprentices (GA’s) is evidenced by the significant industry and public sector demand out stripping supply for places. Investment in public sector planning and building control departments is essential. It would not matter if the industry had an abundance of skills supply if the primary statutory public sector gateways to new housing development are not sufficiently supported. Local authorities require additional support from government to increase their number of planners and building standards officers.

Needs of the industry are also changing. Some would wish to see more skills development focused on housebuilding, or the opportunity to have staff trained and developed in more than one skill set or application. New types of job roles and approaches are likely to increase. If parts of the industry are requesting or seeking such change it is incumbent on those who fund training development to be responsive to such needs. Initial pilot projects and trials are still required to provide a baseline platform and feedback on lessons learnt on new approaches. Furthermore during the course of the last year a number of companies have outlined their intentions to increase direct employment and investment in skills to reduce their exposure and reliance on sub-contractors.

The Scottish construction industry has much to be proud of across so many areas. Our completion rates for apprentices is one of the highest of any sector and they are regularly recognised at international skills awards. For both traditional craft skills and new technology skills sets a common factor in the SLWG and in external discussions was ‘quality’. Increasing the quantity of skills supply and training needs was foremost in the discussions of all parties, but it was not to be at a cost of reducing the quality of new homes.

Given the transformation in future demand and technologies and the acute role construction and new housing have to so many areas of policy, it is recommended that either there is a ministerial portfolio solely for construction, or a new post is formed for a senior civil servant for the construction sector. Co-ordination across departments, fore-sighting future policy pathways, skills planning and enablement of Scottish innovation in the sector will be required at the highest levels of government if the full economic, environmental and societal benefits and impacts are to be achieved over the coming years.

During the course of the SLWG the potential impacts of Brexit were discussed. As this was a ‘live issue’ but also one which the SLWG would be unable to affect a short summary of potential skills factors associated with Brexit is provided in Annex B.

I wish to thank all of the members of the working group for their time and contributions and to those who came to present and discuss various topics with the SLWG (see Annex A). The report includes a wide range of issues and factors which were addressed and discussed by the working group. There were only a few areas where there was not total agreement and I have tried to reflect these comments and factors that should be considered if taken forward. I also wish to acknowledge the excellent support the working group received from the Scottish government ‘new homes delivery team’ before, during and after the meetings.

Finally, to deliver the future new homes on the scale required will require all stakeholders to engage, to promote a sector which is attractive to future new entrants, underpinned by a fairer society approach, to be ready for the new technologies and to adapt to the opportunities ahead.

Professor Sean Smith
Short Life Working Group
New Housing and Future Construction Skills



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