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 1: Short Term Skills Pressures

There are currently specific skills shortages in the new build sector primarily in relation to site skills, such as bricklaying, joinery, site managers and other trades. There are also regional ‘hot spots’ where there is an under supply of on-site skills. The SLWG heard from the CITB of areas such as the Highlands and south east Scotland which have specific acute shortages in key site skills supply [15]. Currently there is a shortage of 300 bricklayers in SE Scotland. Presentations from Edinburgh Napier University highlighted the significant number of new homes that would be required in south east Scotland [16]. In the 20 years 1988-2008 (prior to the recession) 103,000 new homes were built within the 6 local authorities (City of Edinburgh, Fife, Scottish Borders, East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian). In the next 20 years (2019-2039) over 145,000 new homes will be required, approximately a 40% increase [16]. In some of these future years it is likely that 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 of new homes in Scotland will be built in south east Scotland. Edinburgh and the south east of Scotland is forecast over the next 15 years to be the fastest growing city region of Scotland and the 5th fastest growing in the UK, in terms of population [17] and housing [16].

At present there are many sub-contractor and house building companies who are operating with a more mobile workforce to tackle the skills shortages. However, this adds further costs and time periods to projects, reduces productivity, increases transport emissions and places further skills supply pressures on other regions of Scotland where the workforce is drawn from.

Sufficient supervision and management of new housing sites is extremely important. The oversight in delivery of the designed construction, health and safety of site staff and subcontractors, construction quality, effective timely completion and resultant building performance are highly dependent on the site management team. Without sufficient numbers of trained site management staff, not only in relation to new entrants but also in relation to upskilling opportunities, for new methods, technologies and systems can restrict the future number of new house building sites which are operational in Scotland. Given the higher average age of this working group and numbers approaching retirement it will be essential that Scotland has sufficient pipeline of new entrants to this role. Specifically in relation to the important role that mentoring of new entrants by existing site managers provides towards knowledge transfer and sector continuity.

General site operative roles (and non-craft on site skills) also provide a starter career route for many entering the sector. This can lead to the opportunity for the site operative to then decide which key skills trade they wish to embark on in the future. Concerns were expressed by SLWG members that general site operatives are an integral component to the site function and delivery and care should be taken to ensure there is sufficient entry points and opportunities to attract new entrants.

Multi-skills for on-site operatives was also discussed by the SLWG. In discussions with companies beyond the SLWG such roles were seen by house builders and contractors as being some of their most valuable staff in relation to productivity and resilience of operations and the ability to adapt to site operation changes. The background of such multi-skill operatives was often having learned a specific craft to then have been upskilled to undertake other site operations. Note that none of the operatives discussed were involved in electrical or gas works. Future provision of upskill training for existing staff to learn other site activities and operations of equipment are valuable for the resilience of the company, employee and sector.

In addressing the current shortage of key site skills the SLWG discussed the significant shortfall in the number of bricklayers across Scotland and in particular south east Scotland. Both data sets from CITB [15] and Edinburgh Napier University’s skills mapping [16] (for future city region deal housing construction projects) identified current shortages and projected shortages in coming years. The SLWG discussed at length the potential for developing specific skill sets which are required for housebuilding. However, it was agreed that any such course would have to be aligned to career progression, contributing towards qualification for a full modern apprenticeship and there would have to be evidence of industry demand. Previous evidence of specific skills training developed for one sector is the Forster roofing programme. Through the Forster Roofing Academy apprentices are trained for specific skills and general skills required, creating an expert supply of installers and erectors with an approved qualification. Such adaptation to specific skills sets and industry needs is likely to increase given the range of diverse activities and technologies the industry sector will require to undertake in the coming two decades.


R.1.1 There should be a focus on the delivery to increase the supply of bricklayers, joiners* and painter and decorators to tackle industry shortages, with an initial focus on Highlands and Islands and south east Scotland. * Note: recent statistics of Scottish college new entrants to joinery has increased and is now 58% of modern apprenticeships for the sector. This is very welcomed but will have to continue for a number of years to achieve an optimum future supply. However, there is an ongoing specific shortfall in both bricklayers, painters and decorators and plasterers entering into the current training programmes.

R.1.2 Adapting the supply of craft and non-craft on-site skills for house building in future through improved foresighting of skills needs relevant to the house building sector.

R.1.3 Additional support and investment should be provided to assist training and supply of site managers and upskilling of current site managers. Note: Recently a new fast track pilot programme for site management modern apprenticeships was announced, involving Stewart Milne Homes in partnership with CITB. Miller Homes have also joined this programme. Such programmes are welcomed to enable and support future pipelines of new staff and employees for such roles. Expansion of such programmes and involvement of more companies across Scotland would help embed such opportunities both in urban and rural locations.

R.1.4 Multi-Skills for on-site operatives – enhances workforce resilience, employability and supports inclusive growth.

There was strong support from industry housebuilders and education providers. Industry bodies raised a number of issues. There may be specific restrictions on which skills should not be part of 'multi-skills' due to health and safety concerns and accreditation/registration requirements. Where new MA’s do come forward in future there should be strict oversight on the development, content, structure and that there is industry evidenced demand for them. There was full agreement for topping up new additional skills areas post MA qualifications. This may also lead to better future productivity on sites.

R.1.5 Skills courses developed which align to house building needs where there are specific shortages and offers faster entry to work (e.g. bricklaying for house building) - but which are part of the qualification route towards an MA, but would require further future top up in training, development and assessment prior to reaching full MA qualification.

All companies, housing delivery and education providers supported this recommendation. However, industry bodies raised a number of important issues. It would require future progression towards MA in bricklaying to support future career pathways and job opportunities outside of house building. Concerns were raised (linking to Edinburgh Schools investigation and the Cole report findings) of such roles then working outside their remit into non-housing projects. Sub-recommendations are:

  • It would have to be closely monitored and have 'qualification recognition' with funding available for further top up to full MA, so trainees could have a pathway to full craft skills and non-housing projects.
  • Skill cards should be considered to indicate this level of qualification and would assist site managers and companies to know the skills levels of employees and those on site.
  • Such a route towards a qualification for bricklaying for housebuilding should be directly sponsored and supported by an employer. If the employer guaranteed top up funding and support for the employee to progress towards an MA qualification in Bricklaying this would provide opportunities for future career progression and wider employment opportunities.

Note: Recommendation is for a pilot program to work with companies, industry bodies, and FE colleges to develop a framework and pathway towards such a course and contribution as part of future full MA level in bricklaying. [Ongoing activities] SE Scotland has the greatest shortage of bricklayers. House building companies via Homes for Scotland have offered up to 40 trainee places in SE Scotland if a pilot was developed. SE Scotland City Region Deal has offered to undertake a pilot program with industry and FE. This would also support inclusive growth and faster entry to work opportunities.



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