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New off-site construction centre targets skills threat to UK housing

A new project between construction and academia, spearheaded by Stewart Milne Timber Systems, aims to address the ‘triple threat’ to the UK’s new homes ambitions: shortages of materials, skills and quality new housing.

Stewart Milne Timber Systems has joined forces with Napier and Heriot-Watt Universities, and industry partners CCG Construction Group, to develop an off-site construction centre of excellence at its Oxfordshire manufacturing facility. This off-site construction ‘hub’ will develop industry-focused and interactive training with the ambition of creating a highly skilled off-site construction workforce.

The project is part of a wider national initiative, run by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, which is looking at innovative ways to tackle the skills shortage in off-site construction.

Industry professionals from house-building, affordable housing providers, contractors, architects, technical and construction teams are encouraged to visit the centre and complete the Stewart Milne Timber Systems Competency Scheme, achieving different levels of certification depending on which aspect of training they complete.

Stewart Dalgarno, director of product development at Stewart Milne Group said: “The UK’s shortage of housing is well-documented, but solving a challenging problem is made even harder by a persistent and chronic lack of skilled labour. Currently there are not enough people to build the UK’s shortfall of homes.

“Realigning the industry around off-site construction with timber systems means the UK will be less constrained and less dependent on current trades skills.

“The project is the beginning of an answer to this triple threat to the country’s housing ambitions, and having experts from industry and academia working together means we are in a strong position to deliver something meaningful for the good of the whole industry and the UK housing market.”

The project includes a timber systems off-site manufacturing technical training centre at Stewart Milne Timber Systems’ facility in Witney, Oxfordshire. The centre includes a product gallery, conference centre, and learning centre which gives visitors the chance to visualise the construction process end to end, view training videos, interact with the latest technology and take part in simulations. It also includes a “training rig” to allow hands-on experience of the real-life process of construction.

Dr Robert Hairstans, head of the centre for offsite construction and innovative structures at Napier University, said: “Offsite systems are more technically advanced due to the inherent quality assurance process of a factory environment and adoption of lean production principles.

“Bringing these advanced systems together on-site requires a new skill level. Stewart Milne Timber Systems’ investment in the process of upskilling is admirable, and the new centre of excellence being launched is a showcase of what can be achieved through collaboration.”

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