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HOW SERIOUS IS THE SKILLS SHORTAGE IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY?

In a recent Housebuilder and Developer survey, a lack of skilled workers was seen as one of the top barriers to the adoption of the Future Homes Standard. So just how serious is the skills shortage in the construction industry and how can we help raise construction standards and speed of install onsite?

A report by the Construction Skills Network (CSN) estimated the UK construction industry needs to employ an additional 217,000 workers by 2025 to meet the country’s building demands. A recruitment programme is much needed. It will help address the skills shortfall that has been heightened by a post-Brexit exodus of EU workers – which along with the global building materials shortage – threatens to jeopardise the government’s pledge to build the 300,000 homes per year to curb the country’s property crisis.

Whatever the industry, a new workforce takes time to fully acquire the skills and experience that are second nature to older colleagues. But support in various forms is available to help bring rookie recruits up to speed and ensure building standards are maintained to the highest level throughout the learning process. For example, Recticel, is an avid advocate of the Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI), which is being introduced to help manufacturers provide clear, transparent and accessible information on what their products are designed to achieve and how they are used.

The CCPI gives building professionals young and experienced greater assurance that the item they are buying is absolutely appropriate for its intended task. Setting out a product’s terms of use and intended outcomes clearly will not only inspire confidence in the user, it could help close the much-maligned performance gap and ensure properties are built as-designed.

Technical support

Indeed, manufacturers have a significant role to play in helping educate the next generation of construction workers. At Recticel and our tapered insulation division, Gradient, we have a technical team whose expertise is readily available to customers. From product specification and design, through to installation and aftersales support, our friendly, professional team has all the guidance a customer needs to guarantee their building project is a success.

To supplement this consultation, design and manufacturing service, Gradient opened a training centre in 2019 to demonstrate best practice in a range of flat roofing applications. Based at the company’s manufacturing HQ in Burntwood, Staffordshire, the training centre is purpose built to instill candidates with the highest standards of roofing installation and safety knowledge through a range of expertly-delivered theoretical training and practical exercises. The programmes are also designed to raise general awareness about technical aspects of Gradient products and systems, thus enabling merchants and distributors to give informed advice to customers.

Furthermore, Recticel has produced a series of RIBA-approved CPDs which are designed for all building professionals – from architects to contractors – to stay up-to-date and compliant with building regulations requirements. This has particular relevance, with Part L of the Building Regulations – which relates to insulation – due to undergo its biggest update since 2013. The changes come into force in June as a means of achieving a 30% reduction in carbon emissions in new homes through a combination of fabric improvements, low carbon heating technologies and PV panels. The amendments are seen as a stepping stone to the Future Homes Standard in 2025 when new housing will be expected to produce 75-80% fewer carbon emissions compared to current standards.

Innovation vital to simplifying product usage for trainees and professionals alike

Manufacturers can also help our future construction workforce by innovating products that excel in terms of useability as well as performance. This requires the type of intense, creative research and development that has led to various updates and the introduction of alternative products on the market.

Recticel’s Eurowall® + is another excellent example of how innovation can simplify the installation process for users whilst providing equally impressive outcomes. The rigid full-fill insulation board was the first to feature a tongue-and-groove joint on all four edges. This revolutionary design changes the way a wall works without altering how it is constructed.

In terms of thermal capability, Eurowall® + can achieve a U-value of 0.18 W/m2K in a traditional 100mm masonry cavity wall, extracting more performance compared to typical partial-fill solutions without widening the footprint of the external wall.  Whilst many rigid full-fill products are 97mm or thicker for a designed cavity width of 100mm, Eurowall® + offers a 90mm insulation board to achieve similar thermal performance whilst avoiding impeding conventional bricklaying techniques.

However, manufacturers are only one link in the building supply chain; it should be becoming of each sector of the construction industry to help build the skills of its incoming workforce. This can be achieved by greater collaboration between the sector’s stakeholders, as called for in Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future’ report. The 2018 review urged for a ‘golden thread’ of data to be available to key stakeholders involved in complex and high-risk building projects to ensure original design intent is preserved.  Sharing a building’s data in this fashion would appear a smart, practical move in helping future generations of construction employees maintain required building standards. 

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