As the demand for housing in the UK continues to grow, so does the need to adapt construction methods. With a hefty Government target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s and sustainability a vital component, Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are now seen as cost effective and viable options to help accelerate supply.
But what skills will the increased adoption of MMC require, and can the labour market deliver them at the volume needed to keep pace with such a huge demand for homes across the UK? Our Construction sector specialists share their thoughts.
Broader skills, less on-site labour
Compared with traditional brick and block construction, MMC needs a broader set of skills to deliver but potentially less on-site labour. This changing skill set is fundamental to the longer-term adoption of MMC and the aspiration for it to make up a greater part of the overall output of the sector.
While housing supply has increased in the last 6 years, ongoing investment in talent and new skills is essential to sustain the pace.
A change in attitude is key
The first major change required is attitudinal. At present most of the major development companies are not investing enough in the skills needed to deliver a fundamental shift in how they build homes.
Developers have continued to make strong profits using traditional build methods with an operating model that has an acceptable level of risk. So it is easy to see why they may be reluctant to invest large amounts of capital in new skills and a system of building that may offer them lower returns with more risk. However, in reality, the push to adopt MMC more universally will continue, driven by the Government and ongoing funding in housing output and carbon neutral building.
Wider adoption of MMC will also be accelerated by the simple proof that it can work for all stakeholders. As the number of schemes using the product at scale increases with positive results, so will the wider appetite to incorporate it into more traditional business models and make it work from a commercial perspective.
A critical side point to accelerating the housing supply, is the significant improvement needed in the speed of the planning process to better serve developers. This though is a point that requires a debate in its own right! The key now is to find a way for both Government and major developers to work together to solve the housing crisis.
A new combination of onsite and offsite skills
The workforce will be both an onsite and offsite consideration in any longer-term transition to MMC. The key trades and skills needed onsite will still need to be maintained and developed to serve both traditional and MMC methods. Offsite skills are where the greatest changes are and will continue to occur.
If housing developers get the offsite skills around manufacturing, logistics and supply chain management in place, and continue to invest in them whilst upskilling the onsite workforce, this will enable MMC to become firmly established as a viable, volume solution for housing supply.
Inevitably, technology and products will continue to change, and the workforce will have to keep pace. Injecting new skills from outside the sector will be key to supporting the delivery capability, adoption and evolution of MMC.
What needs to happen is for an industry historically hesitant to innovate to steadily adopt the attitudes and skills crucial to MMC adoption, and the planning process to be reframed to support not hinder the achievement of housing targets. A challenge no doubt, but surely one that is in everyone’s interest to solve.