New methods of construction needed in London to combat skill shortages
A growing skills crisis in London’s construction sector is strengthening the case for the adoption of modern methods of construction, according to a think tank report.
The report from the Centre for London, assesses how the speed, scale and quality of housing delivery could be increased using off-site housing construction and manufacturing.
And it warns that there are the workforce which is aging and numbers could be severely diminished after Brexit. It points out that 12% estimated to leave the sector within the next nine years, around 36,000 workers.
Then, with overseas workers born in the European Union accounting for 33% of the construction of buildings workforce, this number could fall considerably. On top of this the number of apprenticeship starts in construction, planning and the built environment in the capital has declined by almost 50% in the five years to 2016.
The construction occupations facing the greatest skills shortage are all on-site trades, including plant mechanics, scaffolders and bricklayers, according to a 2017 report by the Greater London Authority. It indicated that demand in all three occupational areas in 2017 exceeded 300 per cent of 2015 employment levels.
In light of these pressures, the report finds that offsite housing construction and manufacturing could help to achieve faster delivery onsite than traditional construction with schemes completed in about two thirds of the time.
It also suggests that offsite construction could help to shift the workload from constrained construction sites to the more controlled, safer environment of factories, reduce local environmental impact, and help to diversify the workforce.
But the transition to widespread adoption of off-site construction and manufacturing has been slow. The report finds that a step change is required to ensure that modern methods of construction can be part of the solution to London’s housing crisis. This includes the development of skills, improving supply chains, promoting the potential of new construction techniques, and ensuring supportive policy and financing structures.
To ensure workers develop the skills needed, the report calls on the Mayor of London to consider how to use devolved skills funding to help existing construction workers develop the skills needed to implement new methods and on developers and industry bodies to invest in upskilling workers.
The report also argues that better collaboration within the construction sector is needed. It therefore recommends that local authorities and housing associations, with support from the Mayor of London and the Government, should pool expertise and purchasing power to form an MMC buying club. This would allow them to build at scale across multiple London boroughs, thereby helping sustain levels of factory production.
‘Innovation is urgently needed to increase the current levels of housing delivery within the capital. If Modern Methods of Construction are to be part of the solution, a step change is required,’ said Victoria Pinoncely, research manager at the Centre for London and co-author of the report.
‘We need better collaboration within the construction sector, the development of standardised techniques and financing models, and a strong lead from both the GLA and national Government,’ she added.
Jonathan Emery, managing director of property, Europe, at Lendlease, believes that modern methods could help resolve the issue and improve safety on site. ‘It’s now time to put our knowledge in to action by sharing our research, working together and collectively engaging in practices that will strengthen our industry,’ he said.
According to Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for Housing and Planning, there needs to be a major boost to house building. ‘As this important report makes clear, innovation in construction methods can be a key part of achieving this. London boroughs are determined to deliver the homes our communities need and have proven themselves more than willing to try new approaches,’ he pointed out.
‘I’m proud that we’re collaborating on the PLACE modular housing programme, the first time UK local authorities have come together to procure this sort of housing. Through pursuing innovative solutions, we can make faster progress in delivering more homes in the capital,’ he added.