Offsite – it’s about the people

These pages contain much about the latest innovation in offsite systems and of inspiring examples of how these systems are building ever taller or large structures. We all get excited by these new solutions, but where we should be focusing our efforts is on the people. With a 42% increase in the last 9 months in people seeking to access learning about offsite through there is clearly a demand, but is this enough?

Whether you want to build 44 stories of residential in Croydon, a new airport terminal in Dublin, or indeed apply offsite systems to the stations and platforms of Crossrail there are systems suitable to do just this and much more.

These great projects do much to make the business case for offsite, add to this the ever growing list of articles and white papers that have set out the business case and advantages that offsite can bring and we should by now need no further convincing that we need to build better and to do this we need to build differently.

Increased investment in construction industrialisation

Offsite, or perhaps a better term is Construction Industrialisation, provides an obvious answer to this need and it is indeed encouraging to see its adoption in the UK is being backed by HM Government, infrastructure clients and increasingly by house builders. This has created the conditions where we are seeing significant investments not just by the leading industry players such as Laing O’Rourke, McAvoy and Elliott, but also from outsider such as Goldman Sachs, Sekisui and Legal & General.

Investment in new manufacturing facilities is indeed important, but in the rush to expand capacity we must not forget that it’s the people and the processes they develop that will ultimately be the deciding factor on whether these investments, indeed the wider adoption of offsite, will be successful or not.

Skills gap or skills shortage?

It is common to hear about the struggle to get the right talent. The skills gap and skills shortage get regular mentions, but what do we mean by these terms? Dealing with the latter first; the threat to our industry of the ageing workforce and our ability to attract new and diverse talent was clearly laid out in “Modernise or Die” by Mark Farmer. The skills shortage is one completely of our own making, our business models are project led and this means we focus on the short term need for labour rather than investing in the long-term pipeline of talent.

Building a pipeline of talent

The Offsite sector is in danger of making the same mistakes. Laing O’Rourke has led the development of the Construction Assembly and Installation Operative Apprenticeship. The Manufacturing Technology Centre are currently developing learning to upskill colleges in the principles of good offsite factories.  But both organisations are struggling to persuade colleges to invest in developing their capability to deliver these new qualifications.

Rather than bemoan the lack of talent, employers and colleges need to collaborate to form a national network of regional colleges that can inspire the next generation.

Educating our current workforce

The other half of the problem is the Skills Gap. That is our current workforce are not being educated on how adopting an offsite solution will affect there day to day decision making.,  is currently developing new training materials to address this issue. If I’m and architect what do I need to do differently to embed an offsite approach through the RIBA Plan of Work stages? Equally if I’m a cost consultant or procurement manager how will the forms of contract change, how do a I value work in a factory and how do I assess the ability of the supply chain to deliver. Courses are also in the pipeline for Project Managers, Site Managers and Logistics Managers which will deal with the practicalities of setting up the sites for offsite.

Developing management skills

It is not just these practical skills that are required, research by the  has revealed that we also need to equip managers with an industrialisation mindset. These are the  skills to innovate, collaborate, make the business case for, and then lead, change. The construction industrialisation wheel depicts the interaction between these practical and management skills, but Volume 2 of Kier’s “The Choice Factory”, makes a great case for the need for behavioural change to drive the adoption of offsite.

Invest in our people to avoid stalling the offsite revolution

Looking at the investments being  made by our industry we need to ensure that we also upskill our workforce and work with colleges to ensure that the next generation are equipped to meet our needs. Without this investment in our people the offsite revolution may once again stall.

Fig.1 Industrialisation wheel


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