Filling the gap

David Cassell at the Marley Eternit Training Centre
David Cassell at the Marley Eternit Training Centre
David Cassell at the Marley Eternit Training Centre
David Cassell at the Marley Eternit Training Centre

The roofing sector and wider construction industry is facing an increasing skills gap, which is the culmination of a lengthy financial downturn followed by a period of rapid building growth. We have been left with a labour legacy from the recession, where many experienced tradespeople left the industry and companies were unable to invest in recruitment or training. Yet, at the same time, the global construction market is now expected to grow by approximately 70% by 2025 and this will require a significant expansion in the size of the workforce.

While Government and the construction industry are looking to boost the number of new recruits through apprenticeship schemes, which will help in the long term, the situation will get worse before it gets better as older skilled workers retire. Despite increasing the number of apprentices, there are still three times as many people leaving the construction sector each year, as are joining it, with the industry recruiting 15,000 to 20,000 apprentices a year but, around 60,000 people a year expected to retire.

When it comes to the roofing sector, there is already significant activity under way to try and boost the number of people entering the trade – from apprenticeship schemes, to the NFRC’s upskilling programme. However, more needs to be done to address the immediate gap in roofing skills and knowledge as recent figures from ECIS show 64% of roofers had to turn work away in 2015 and 36% resorted to unskilled labour to help fulfil contracts.

With decades of roofing expertise disappearing from the industry through retirement and a new generation coming into the sector through apprenticeships, one of the challenges is to maintain the right levels of training, skills and expertise. There is already significant momentum behind training and qualifying the workforce in the UK roofing industry and this has improved significantly. Alongside formal college courses, there is clearly an important role for free hands-on product training from manufacturers to help fill the immediate skills gap. We already provide training for hundreds of construction professionals every year and we support the CPA’s call for these modules to be recognised as part of formal vocational qualifications.

However, we as an industry also have to recognise that training and skills development needs to evolve so that it is more tailored to the needs of a younger generation who have grown up with tablets and smart phones. While the roofing sector is already adopting the use of mobile technology as a sales tool, with a plethora of handy new apps being developed for estimating, measuring and gauging the pitch of a roof, there is clearly an opportunity to use tablets and smart phones to provide instant access to technical information, acting as an on-site training and reference tool.

Guides and apps
For many years, we have been the only roofing manufacturer to offer a Sitework Guide, showing people how to set out a roof and install our products. Not only have we updated this printed guide to include all of the latest BS 5534 requirements, we have also developed the first roof installation app for smart phones and tablets. This easy-to-use app condenses all of our technical advice on roof installation, giving detailed guidance on how to fit a roof, from storing and handling, setting out and safety, as well as instructions for fitting our extensive range of tiles, slates, dry fix and ventilation systems.

The new Marley Eternit Roofing Sitework Guide app is a user-friendly version of the printed book, which enables visual navigation by both product and area of the roof, to easily find the advice needed. All fixing and installation guidance is in line with the latest BS 5534 requirements and the app is automatically updated with the latest product and industry information. Animations show how a product integrates with the roof system as a whole and the app also gives a zoom functionality to see images or technical information in closer detail.

While a roofing app is clearly no replacement for years of experience, it can help fill in any knowledge gaps and provide instant visual access to technical information in an easy format. Contractors can use the guide to help demonstrate best roofing practice to their site teams and it can act as a handy reference tool for everyone from apprentices through to experienced roofers and builders.

As well as developing a wider range of easier to fix products, such as our new Lincoln easy-to-fix pantile and providing free training and technical advice, we developed the app because we wanted to share the enormous amount of technical roofing expertise we have developed during our 90 years in the industry and make it readily accessible to a younger generation of roofers and builders. Whilst this is just one piece in the jigsaw of different measures needed to address the skills gap, we hope that the app can help everyone involved with fitting roof tiles and systems to enhance their own expertise and be able to access technical information instantly, as and when they need it.

The new Marley Eternit Roofing Sitework Guide app is available to download for free from Google Play or iTunes.

www.marleyeternit.co.uk