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.

Chapter 9: Enabling Medium and Long Term Skills

The following section outlines some of the projected future medium and longer term skills needs for the housebuilding sector. Medium term covers years 4 to 9 and Long term 10+ years. By planning over the next 4 years for the forthcoming medium and longer term skills needs provides an early preparation period for trials, pilots and skills mapping. Industry partnering to assess and evaluate new technologies, processes and systems helps not only share the risk but widen the knowledge at an early stage. This facilitates mainstreaming these technologies and a cohesive approach to skills development.

In the coming years as BIM level 2 (Building Information Modelling) becomes more fully integrated in the sector higher levels of BIM will emerge as technology, softwares and processes improve. Pre-planning of how higher levels of BIM Skills can have a more smoother adoption and take-up than experienced previously with BIM level 2 is important. It is also necessary to consider issues which can arise with the introduction of new technologies and training. A key lesson learnt from the introduction of BIM Level 2 was the rapid switch by some education providers to include BIM training. This led to the removal of some basic construction technology being taught and also the learner being so focused on the digital drawing and not understanding the underpinning construction technology. The learner journey should have the basic construction technology first before embarking on complex software modelling techniques.

Offsite construction is increasing and also can vary into the number of components and ‘levels’ of offsite [36]. In the future it is expected that more assembly of different components will be undertaken offsite. In addition, as technology improves and if set up costs do not increase too much then volumetric or modular may also increase. Given the shortages of housing available for one person and two person households and the significant increased demand forecasted by the National Records of Scotland [4] there is an opportunity for modular construction to deliver solutions for this market. Investment in skills training to support companies that currently or will invest in modular construction would help the sector grow to meet this societal challenge. This would align well with current and future Design for Manufacture approaches.

Scotland currently has approximately 8,000 electric vehicles (EVs) and 2,300 EV charging points or which 740 are hosted by local authorities or in public charge points. Current ratio of charging points to EVs is 1:3. If technologies improve and more rapid charging points are installed this ratio may reduce to 1:6 or 1:8. It is forecast by the National Grid [37] that the UK may have 11 million electric vehicles (EV) by 2030. If Scotland’s share was to be 10% (1.1 million EVs) this would require a substantial year-on-year increase in EV charging point installations. This would suggest that over the coming decade Scotland would require to install 150,000 accessible charging points.

One of the considerations by Scottish government for future new homes, which would support the Climate Change Plan (CCP) [28] and emission reductions, is the integration of charging points in new homes. Note this would be in addition to the 150,000 required for publically accessible areas. Investment to support skills training and increasing the number of skilled EV installers for new housing would also help address the wider community needs for other EV installations. EV vehicles also offer a secondary energy portal back into the home. Future propositions include the home drawing down energy from the EV during the day or evenings. The EV then recharges at night during off-peak periods. Skills investment to augment and support the EV charging points installation delivery over the coming years will be critical to meet the oncoming forecasted uptake for EV and LEV vehicles.

One feature which has featured prominently in future planning is the digital built environment. Whether through integration of sensors, intelligent buildings and homes and the use of data driven innovation there are a number of new technologies which may go into future new homes. Alignment of skill sets and training courses to prepare for such a shift will be required. New housebuilding design provides a strong opportunity to enable combined integration of BIM, Offsite, Blockchain and Cloud approaches.

During the next 80 years due to global population increasing by almost 50%, the world will need to build approximately 2 billion homes. This will result in significant pressures on raw materials. As such investment in training and upskilling now for Designing for Deconstruction and Re-use of new homes will be important to avoid future generations being unable to re-use housing material assets at the end of their life cycle. These are factors which are commonly found in automotive sectors and other industries where ‘designing for deconstruction’ at the outset significantly improves re-use and materials recovery.

It is likely that many countries will shift towards more sustainable materials such as timber. Scotland has 70% of the UK softwood supply. Most timber frame is imported but recent research funded by Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish companies has also identified applications and led to new homes being built using home grown timber. In particular there have been successes in modular, closed panel and CLT housing construction systems. To support this development and help the industry upskill a new MSc course in Timber Architectural Design and Technology at Edinburgh Napier University will commence in 2019.

With the global demand for housing increasing significantly in the coming decades this will place pressures on housing supply and skills. Early policies and investment by Scotland to support offsite and skills development for housing may also provide opportunities to increase exports or joint ventures for international markets. Companies partnering in skills development can also help form a ‘critical mass’ approach particularly for new innovations and future training programmes.

Use of virtual systems are increasing and recent applied research projects have been undertaken by Scottish companies, CSIC, Strathclyde University and Heriot-Watt University. Some companies have utilised virtual systems (VIR/VR/VS) for installations works, which provide instructions projected in front of the installer. One area which could benefit significantly from VS is site inspections and monitoring. Whereby the site manager and/or building inspector can check the project site using specialised head-sets with pre-programmed design drawings to compare with as-built. This also provides digital recording facilities to track and file for retrieval at a later date if required. In recent years various construction issues on new build have occurred and loss of life events involving retrofit projects (such as Grenfell) have led to major changes to construction regulations. The ability to enhance inspection and verification through such on-site VIR/VR/VS technologies would be a major step forward. This would benefit not only the construction process but also provide a useful reference record for the buildings life cycle and future maintenance.

As new energy and control systems are developed to reduce energy consumption, costs, fuel poverty and emissions the integration of smart control technologies for new homes is likely to increase in the coming years. Future intelligent buildings will involve integrated micro-sensors pre-fitted during construction, such as via offsite. The shift to reducing gas usage and move to more electric energy sources may also involve increased innovation and involvement of hydrogen based energy systems and advanced fuel cells. Together all of these aspects and other technologies may enhance the route map to self-powered homes, which also create an energy surplus such as via the holistic integration of EV.

Given all of the above for new homes, the wider construction sector also has a significant pipeline of future activity, policies and additional skills pressures. The Climate Change Plans (CCP) provides a useful insight into the future demands on retrofit skills. Over the coming decade over 200,000 private rented properties will require to increase by two EPC bands. District, community and localised low carbon heating systems will be increased. The two CCP scenarios of either electric or hydrogen (towards 2050) will be shaped by much of the innovation, trials and pilots over the coming decade. This in turn will set the scene for some of the future specific skills needs for 2030-2050.

Improvements in energy efficiency for other existing housing stock, early years programme for schools, increase in new care homes and adapted existing homes to allow the aging population to remain longer in their own homes, will augment construction sector skills demands. Early action to support skills growth and offsite in the new build housing sector is therefore critically important to avoid future ‘skills pull demands’ from other construction activities.

Some housebuilders have reported issues and site project interruptions due to delays with ensuring utilities works are started and completed within the correct site project time period. It appears there are skills supply shortage issues within utilities sector for new house building sites. Utilities and groundworks are keystones for later superstructure works and are critical path enablers. Given the future growth towards more electric utilisation both in house building and other new construction sectors if critical pathways are interrupted or unable to commence this would cause major delays in future new housing delivery. Civil engineering contractors involved in site preparations, groundworks and substructures should be supported early to enable the project flow of sites to maximise the benefits of offsite delivered superstructure.

The construction industry is quite complex and also fragmented but many skills routes can transfer between different sectors. Whilst a key issue for the future is to maximise the inter-links of knowledge, data and workforce across the industry, an equally important aspect is to ensure that all government departments, ministerial portfolios and public sector organisations are interlinked. The construction industry currently reports to, or, intersects across seven different government departments and ministers. Given the transformation in future demand and technologies and the acute role construction has to so many areas of policy, it is recommended that either there is a ministerial portfolio solely for construction or a new post for a senior civil servant for the construction sector is appointed. Co-ordination across departments, fore-sighting future policy pathways, skills planning and enablement of Scottish manufacturing 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.


Note: These recommendations are for the current forthcoming period to help support and enable short, medium and future longer term new housing skills delivery.

R.9.1 To establish a ministerial post for construction or to appoint a senior civil servant to oversee the construction sector and house building and co-ordinate across government departments and organisations.

R.9.2 To map the future demands and skills supply requirements to enable the delivery and deployment for the future electric built environment and to assess utility installers skills needs.

R.9.3 Support to industry to move to higher level offsite categories and more modular approaches, where practical.

R.9.4 Future skills needs are required within the sector to support the enablement in digital processes, BIM current and next stages, sensors, LEV installations, VIR / VS systems, design for manufacture and others.

R.9.5 To ensure that the use of digital training is at the right stages and levels before introducing more advance versions to the learning pathways stages and the underpinning construction technology knowledge is not diluted.



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