Faster, leaner, greener construction through offsite manufacturing skills

The joint government and industry Construction 2025 strategy outlines some very ambitious targets for the sector. Over the next decade, we need to reduce costs by a third, halve construction-related emissions, halve project delivery time and increase exports by 50%. In short, we all need to be faster, leaner and greener.

Off site manufacturing provides an opportunity to help achieve this goal. It is a construction approach where core components of the building or infrastructure are built in a factory and transported to the site when required.

The Offsite Management School
In 2015, Skanska UK and a consortium of Partners including Carillion, Costain and Laing O'Rourke launched the Offsite Management School to help the companies in our supply chains learn the skills they need to become faster, leaner and greener. Initially, supported by the UKCES Futures Programme and CITB (the Construction Industry Training Board), since launch, other major companies have joined our Partnership, including Vinci, Saint Gobain and George Fisher.

Inspired largely by the Open University model, the Offsite Management School is an online learning platform. Drawing on the collective expertise of the business Partners, we’ve made a suite of skills development resources – online learning modules, videos, digital tools and much more – available to the suppliers and subcontractors we all work with. These resources specifically help to develop expertise in offsite manufacturing techniques.

It’s not all online, self-directed learning though. Companies can also access workshops and one-on-one mentoring with a network of industry and academic experts. This is an important aspect of the programme because it ensures that everyone has the support they need to actually implement what they’re learning.

The future is offsite
Offsite manufacturing is a niche sector within construction, but it actually accounts for about 7% of all construction output in the UK and is worth £1.5bn to the economy. This makes it an excellent target for development training – we only have to reach a few hundred companies, not a few thousand, in order to enact a significant change across the industry.

While some companies have adopted offsite manufacturing, the industry generally does not have the skills and expertise required to manage the process in the most effective, efficient way. The car and aerospace industries have developed more advanced manufacturing techniques that further reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve safety.

There is also the challenge of coordinating design and engineering consultancies to think in this new way. They are really influential at the start of the project process. A number of stakeholders are required to design, construct, transport, install and maintain each component, and each have skills shortages that need to be addressed.

Driving and measuring skills improvements
Over 600 companies with 1,100 managers have signed on as members since the school launched in April 2015. The online and offline resources designed to address common skills gaps in project management, design and IT are proving very popular.

In addition to these training resources and expert advisor support, the school also provides self-assessment tools that members can use to track their development. We’ve developed an innovative dashboard that translates the results into a score against five key areas of industrialisation – design, offsite manufacturing, onsite processes, logistics and maintenance. It’s a simple way for members to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in their skill set.

We’re using the combined outcomes of these self-assessments to get a better view of the current state of the industry. We’ll soon be able to see how the supply chain is responding to the challenges – are they actually becoming faster, leaner and greener? We’ll know the impact of the training and development resources and where further resources should be committed to address the gaps.

Facing the challenge together
The success of the Offsite Management School reveals a shift in thinking in the construction industry. Many major competitors have come together, contributing money and expertise, to ensure that the supply chain is best positioned for the future. This is a big cultural change in an industry that has typically shied away from knowledge sharing. It reflects a growing appreciation that everyone benefits when knowledge and expertise is shared with the supply chain.

There are big challenges ahead for everyone in construction. We need to work together to meet the cost, time, emissions and export targets outlined in Construction 2025. The Offsite Management School is one of resources that will get us there. It not only equips companies with the skills required to improve their ways of working and become faster, leaner and greener, but reinforces need for a collaborative approach to development.

Read about other projects to develop skills in the sector here.

Rob Francis, Director of Industrialised Solutions at Skanska UK.

Addressing the skills gap in construction
Join us on July 6 as we present recent market surveys and academic research highlighting the current shortage and gap in skills within the construction industry. This event will explore current industry initiatives, research and trends within the construction skills gap area, and will enable the sharing of ideas and best practice through presentations and discussion relating to these initiatives and trends.

To find out more or register for this event click here.