Tony Woods, Technical Manager at LHC, explains how the public sector can reduce the impacts of skills shortages using offsite manufacture and collaboration.
There’s no doubt that the industry is recovering from the minor downturn it suffered during the pandemic, but now it faces a different challenge: shortages. The latest Federation of Master Builders state of trade survey shows that 60% of builders have paused projects because they can’t find the skilled tradespeople they need.
This is further intensified by an ageing workforce, with half a million UK-born workers set to retire within the next decade, and the need for 217,000 additional workers just to sustain current activity according to statistics from CITB. A skills shortage within the industry is nothing new and neither is using modern methods of construction (MMC) to combat its effects, but now could be the time for turning modern methods into mainstream methods.
To truly embrace MMC, local authorities need to move away from transactional, site-by-site procurement and engage with the supply chain to build a sustainable pipeline of work. Contracting authorities often want pilot projects rather than committing to a longer-term development plan. They then end up making a judgment call based on the success of that one project, rather than recognising it as an educational process. Organisations are likely to find that a long-term approach to MMC projects results in more efficient costs and an increase in social value.
While this approach may seem daunting for contracting authorities, collaborating with other organisations can help to spread the cost and the risk. LHC teams across the country are now working with housing associations and local authorities to develop MMC cluster groups to unlock the value in project aggregation.
By bringing housing providers together and combining projects, MMC producers can start to standardise their production processes, bringing costs down.
Larger orders also mean we can start to build confidence in the supply chain, leading to further investment in jobs, skills, capacity and technology, again bringing further cost benefits in the future. However, any exploration of MMC must be done with expert guidance and support, as there are pitfalls to be avoided.
Through LHC’s Offsite Construction of New Homes (NH2) framework, we already have the foundation for collaborative working at our disposal. It allows relationships between clients and suppliers to develop and flourish from the very early stages onwards and sets out an integrated supply chain without any legal problems for procurement teams. Early engagement between suppliers and clients through the framework will also ensure the risk load is shared more widely.
Using framework agreements helps contracting authorities to manage the process much more easily through a single point of contact and with the aid of technical expertise across all RIBA Plan of Work 2020 stages. Our Offsite Project Integrator (OPI1), framework provides technical support at every stage, making specialist consultants available to help make the business case for MMC housing.
Many local authorities are now realising the value MMC provides. I expect to see this number increase ever further, not just because of the Government’s ever-growing preference for MMC, but also because housing providers are seeing the many benefits that MMC brings.
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