Discussions surrounding sustainability generally focus on the reduction of carbon emissions, the responsible sourcing of materials together with the recycling and elimination of waste – which are all vitally important. However, sustainability goes beyond the environment. Here Andy Goodwin Managing Director for B&K Structures, shares some thought-provoking ideas on developing the right talent to sustain the future of the engineered timber industry.
With construction experiencing consistent levels of growth, one of the major issues facing the industry today is an ageing workforce and the looming impact of Brexit. The offsite industry has been hailed as the solution but to remain at the forefront of innovation in structural timber technology, we need to attract the brightest and best to sustain our national heritage in timber construction.
Great timber engineers are well regarded and highly valued but in the main, applications for these posts come from overseas. Clearly outside the UK timber engineering is a profession of choice - so why does this role not broadly appeal to homegrown talent, particularly as this is an area where the UK leads the world? Is it simply, that this career option is not widely promoted by colleges and universities? Or could it be that education providers are struggling to recruit offsite industry experts to teach the next generation of structural engineers? I suspect it is a bit of both.
So, there’s the dilemma – what’s the solution?
We in the industry need to take responsibility, after all, it is in our own interest – greater collaboration is needed with education providers to explore ways to engage directly with students. B&K Structures has formed partnerships with Nottingham Trent University and Derby College. Our Pre-Construction Manager, Jules Peyré recently took part in a guest lecture at Nottingham Trent University, it was a beneficial experience for all, and the feedback was rewarding with Jason Bierton, Senior Lecturer in Architectural Technology and Chartered Architectural Technologist saying:
"We are extremely grateful to industry partners who are prepared to share their time, knowledge and expertise in assisting our students with their professional development and employability skills. Our architectural technology students appreciated the optimised offsite construction guidance and case studies presented by Jules Peyré from B&K Structures. This will help inform our students' final-year project and ultimately assist Nottingham Trent University in continuing to provide significant learning opportunities."
It is not just guest lectures that we are involved in, we are very proud to report that 25% of the B&K Structures’ team are currently taking part in or have completed apprenticeship schemes and part-time degree programmes. Our Degree Apprenticeships are delivered in collaboration with Derby College and Nottingham Trent University in Quantity Surveying together with Level 3 Apprenticeships in Digital Engineering, Construction and the Built Environment.
But personally, I think the time is right for a more radical approach. We are familiar with 106 Agreements, for those who are not – these are often referred to as 'developer contributions’ – putting back something into the community where the project is being delivered. So why could guest lectures and contractor-led training programmes not form part of 106 Agreements for education builds?
This could be part of a company’s recruitment strategy and offer support for construction led courses from industry professionals who wish to inspire the next generation of engineers and architects together with helping to develop the specialist skills that the offsite industry requires. By sharing our expertise, we will get the best opportunity to engage directly with students to promote the diverse range of career options available within the structural timber sector.
Maybe the perceptions held by students are predicated on outdated construction practices and conditions. We have some fantastic examples of how we are creating the built environment of tomorrow, new techniques such as drone surveys and the use of virtual reality. It is down to those involved in the industry to show the very broad and rewarding career opportunities in construction.
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