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BUILDING SKILLS FOR OFFSITE CONSTRUCTION The construction industry is changing and needs a workforce that is trained in new and innovative offsite methods to meet the sector’s future needs.

1 Having recognised the challenges facing the offsite sector, Dudley College has invested over £12m in Dudley Advance II – an education Centre for Advanced Building Technologies. This was the fitting location chosen to hold a roundtable event to debate the skill challenges generated by the groundswell in the offsite manufacturing and the emerging digital construction technologies. Sponsored by recruitment specialists in engineering, construction and offsite manufacturing - ARV Solutions, who are facing a significant recruitment challenge attracting new skills to meet the demands of the construction industry, Managing Director, Jim Roach called together a carefully selected group of key figures from both the offsite industry and education sectors, to discuss the challenges and debate the solutions. Chaired by Darren Richards, Managing Director of the leading offsite experts, Cogent Consulting – the group focused on five key questions around keeping pace with the forecast growth, 24

the key roles that are likely to change, what factors are holding back skills development and how the industry can attract new talent to meet the future requirements. The debate expanded to encompass engagement with educators and the best way to go about developing a curriculum designed specifically to produce a new skills base for the offsite technology sector. Faster, Smarter and More Efficient To kick off proceedings, Darren Richards tabled the CITB report Faster, Smarter, More Efficient: building skills for offsite construction commissioned by attendee Ben Lever, Future Skills of Innovations Lead for CITB. Published in April 2017, Ben Lever explained that the scope of engagement for the report was broad and covered the horizon of needs across five to seven years – as beyond that, the industry cannot predict what is coming. The findings of this report have been heavily influenced by industry consultation. CITB issued an open invitation to contribute but many who came forward reflected a ‘building site in a shed’ approach.


Ben highlighted the need for CITB to bring ‘other voices’ to the table to future-proof standards and to optimise the mechanisation of production lines. Looking to the future Ben said new roles are required such as Automation Technician, DFM Process Manager with digital design skills, together with hybrid manufacturing roles, for example a Digital Construction Manager, who will take ownership of the product end to end.

On the ground, Darren Richards said Cogent is seeing a different perspective to what the survey has shown, with most manufacturers creating a better version of a ‘building site in a shed’ and not automating and mechanising in an L&G style - simply because the confidence is not there to support the massive investment required, which could run into tens of millions. Confidence to Invest Ben Towe, Managing Director for Hadley Group said there needs to be more maturity in the market before automation becomes realistic, saying: “It will come, but rather than being two to three years down the line, I think it is much further away than that, there are elements that are automated to some extent but to bring it all together, in my opinion, will take time and we’re not there yet.” The timber frame sector is one of the more advanced offsite industries and Mike Perry, Sales Director for Stewart Milne Timber Systems, who made a £12 million investment in an automated plant -supported this view, saying: “It is an exciting time for us but volume is critical, we can go banging on the doors of our major clients, however the largest house building programme is going to be delivered by the government but they need to confirm committed volumes to the likes of the people sitting around this table to generate a climate of confidence for investment. This will stop major companies thinking about