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21st Century Thinking: The New Approach to the Skills Shortage in Construction

We know the construction industry has a huge skills shortage due to older members of the workforce retiring, reduced immigration and the zero appetite from our younger generations to work in construction. But what about recruiting people from non-construction roles as a solution? Sounds made up “working in construction with no construction experience” but that’s right a recent survey conducted by the Offsite Alliance and the Ministry of Building Innovation + Education (MOBIE) showed that you don’t necessarily have to have any construction experience to work in the industry.

The 7 Priority Skills for Changing the Industry

MOBIE and the Offsite Alliance Skills Group have come together to map the skills required for the offsite / Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) sector, to test them with industry, identify existing providers, assess how to plug any gaps and better connect industry to academia. They identified the 7 priority skills for a changing industry are:

1. Digital design skills/Building Information Modelling (BIM)

2. Innovation and emerging technology

3. Manufacturing processes – process thinking and practice, including continuous improvement

4. Retrofit

5. Alternative and new materials

6. Sustainability and low carbon approaches, including renewable energy

7. Soft skills – inc. multi-disciplinary and team working, presentation skills, etc.

Note digital and technology skills are right at the top – this is remarkably interesting because 7 years ago the Modularize business recruited their very first Software Engineer – and please note again he had absolutely no construction experience!!

In a recent interview with Chris Khozouie, Software Engineer at Modularize we asked him about his role at Modularize and where he thinks the industry is heading for his skillset.

What is your role at Modularize?

My official title is “Software Engineer”, although it does not fully explain my role in the company as my job is very flexible that a single job title cannot explain it. I am also the Programmer, 3D Animator, and the IT support guy! Generally speaking, l have my own projects to complete which requires speaking to clients, understanding their objectives, designing, developing, maintaining, testing, and implementing software for them to use to fit their requirements. Some jobs I have worked on require other types of technology I will work on such as using 3D Printers, Drones, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and creating 3D animations for clients.

Chris Khozouie, Software Engineer, Modularize

In your experience what are the needs of a Modularize customer?

Modularize customers have a variety of diverse needs including building designs that are suitable for offsite application, full manufacturing drawings including a detailed Bill of Materials list with “IKEA-like” drawings to show how to fit the parts/building together and the integration of technology in both the product and process to aid automation. We have worked with lots of different clients from developers or housing associations that build hundreds of houses, to restaurants/takeaways that want to erect an entire building in a few weeks, to manufacturers that create pods to fit inside offices/back gardens. We even helped develop a system to raise an entire house off the ground automatically in the case of a flood. With all this in mind, the needs of the client can vary wildly, and most projects need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Do you agree that one of the main challenges in the construction industry is the skills shortage?

I believe most people in the industry agree that the skill shortage is the biggest right now. Many teenagers are avoiding the construction industry as it is still perceived to be a “dirty” job and one that requires a lot of heavy physical labour in the cold, mud and rain for long hours and low pay. These same teenagers may prefer to find a warm indoor office/retail job instead. The reality is the majority of construction jobs are far from like this, take my role as Software Engineer, I have never visited a muddy site once! Construction jobs that require heavy lifting are becoming far less common as companies use more machinery and prefabrication techniques. This means workers don’t have to deal with changing weather conditions as more components or entire products are built indoors inside factories. The industry needs to fix this image of what it means to join the construction industry for more people to want to work in it.

How does a role like yours help with the current skills shortage?

I am living proof that you can work in the industry and not come from a non-construction background! There are lots of skills needed especially on the technology front so educating young people and organisations about what other skills can be used in construction is key. My role as Software Engineer means I help clients with the “Adoption of Technology”. One of the other challenges the industry faces is lack of innovation and as a result, low productivity, and a large part of my job is focused on using technology to increase the efficiency of lots of different tasks to improve the whole project. For example, this could be creating scripts/software that could be used to create buildings, introducing VR/AR to a company to detect errors before the build starts, using 3D Printing to create extremely specific parts instead of ordering them and waiting for them to arrive, etc. Modularize as a technology-based construction company tend to be ahead of the curve and I think in my case this is a testament to their trailblazing culture!

Working Together to Solve our Skills Crisis

The current skills crisis is currently dependent on our future generations embracing construction as a serious career. With the digital world at their fingertips, offsite construction is certainly becoming more attractive for our millennials with new roles and opportunities in the sector rapidly evolving such as 3D and 4D design and automation manufacturing. However, we cannot take it for granted that because our young people have grown up using technology they will want to work in the industry. More work must be done to ensure our future generations are aware of the career potential within offsite construction.

Mark Southgate CEO of MOBIE said: “The construction industry is changing. We need to train future construction industry workers in skills such as digital design, manufacturing processes, site assembly, and sustainability and retrofit. We need to ensure that today’s learners have all the skills they need for a future in the industry, and we need to involve industry more in the delivery of this learning.”


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