Oct 07, 2016

A seal of approval for offsite construction

If your Ford car breaks down and needs repaired, you look for a mechanic. You won’t want just any mechanic, but a Ford-certified mechanic would undoubtedly put you at ease. It’s the same when the boiler breaks down. You would look for a Gas Safe registered engineer. The point being that you would trust the fact that both the mechanic and the engineer had a recognised qualification - a seal of approval from the manufacturer.

The timber frame industry, and offsite construction, should be no exception to this. If you want a quality build, you need to trust the expertise of those who deliver it. You want to know that the company you have appointed has the right calibre of people, trained and experienced to deliver your project successfully. This is one of the reasons we have partnered with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University and CCG Construction Group to improve current skills in the sector and drive excellence in future offsite construction workforce and client base whilst achieving robust competency levels. So what will this mean in practice?

Combining academic rigour with industry insight

To meet the overall construction demands across the UK we need to overcome the skills gap we face. We want to encourage a new work force to seek out careers in our sector. Our project is part of a wider national initiative which is looking at innovative ways to tackle this skills gap and enable offsite construction to become more mainstream.

The project has paved the way for the creation of a series of competency-based certificates awarded to those working in construction, using Stewart Milne Timber Systems. The merging of academic partners (Napier and Heriot-Watt Universities) and industry partners (ourselves and CCG Construction Group) has allowed the development of highly practical and interactive materials that can be used across the sector’s workforce. Such a blend of training materials includes: a guide to offsite construction; “How to” videos; animations; a product gallery; 3D Ikea-style assembly training; and hands-on training. These are available to those working in the industry who use Stewart Milne Timber Systems to help them to improve and refine their skills. This project really is CPD in practice for the real world.

The longer-term ambition is to use the learning gained to create an offsite ‘hub’ for Scotland, which will define and showcase the skills requirements for the industry and ensure collaboration between professions. This is centred on developing three key outputs: bespoke training for industry partners; generic training materials for use in the wider sector; and scaling up and internationalisation of the offsite hub.

Overall the hub will act as a centre of expertise responsible for defining and showcasing skill requirements and ensuring collaboration between those working in the design, construction, manufacturing and engineering aspects of offsite construction.

Technical training centre

To be effective, we as an industry need the right skills and training in place to grow. It’s an inherent part of our own business – enabling our business grow to and meet the rising demands of the offsite construction sector.

Now, to the really exciting part. Our industry depends on technical expertise and access to the latest in cutting edge technology. With this in mind, we have created a timber systems off-site manufacturing technical training centre at our factory facility in Witney in Oxfordshire. The centre includes a product gallery, conference centre and working centre and gives visitors the chance to see the construction process end to end, interact with the latest technology and take part in simulations. It also includes a “training rig” to allow the experience of the real-life process of construction.

But this isn’t just about showcasing. The centre’s ambition is to create a space for those in the industry to come together to learn from one another and to arrive at a greater understanding of each profession within the industry. Through this we will see the honing of technical and construction expertise for our business and our customers to use.

We are at the start of our journey with the training centre, the idea being that the majority of our staff and clients who work in sales, technical or construction will have the opportunity to take part in the Stewart Milne Timber Systems Competency Scheme, achieving different levels of certification depending on which aspect of training they complete. This will create the Stewart Milne Timber Systems approved designer or installer for our range of timber frame solutions, similar to the Ford mechanic.

When industry and academic partners come together in this innovative way, there is potential for profound learning and improvement of expertise and knowledge. Through combining networking with access to training materials and state-of-the-art technology, we are allowing the sector to continually refine and improve its technical and construction know-how which, longer term, should not only preserve our industry but allow it to thrive.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Timber Research and Development Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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