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Who Will Build Our Future?

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With the announcement of major job losses hitting the headlines, the devastating impact of recession is already beginning to be felt in Wales, and this at a time when the Furlough scheme remains in place protecting jobs, and the pandemic itself is still present in our communities. How Wales chooses to counter the recession will have lasting implications on our built environment potentially for generations to come. Whilst construction can play a pivotal role in helping to rebuild our economy, more than ever it will be essential to consider what we build, how we build and who will build it.

With the Welsh Government having a legal duty in Part 2 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 even before the pandemic we were already seeing a shift towards new low impact methods of construction. For “building” to deliver lasting economic benefits for Wales, there is a very real need to focus on environmentally sustainable construction and to ensure that what we build is going to contribute to a better future for everyone. Including:

●     Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) that include: modular factory built housing and timber construction for both residential and commercial buildings.

●     A continued strengthening of our expertise in Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems.

●     Retrofit to reduce residential carbon emissions.

●     Carbon neutral new build.

●     Supporting the research, development and manufacture of the equipment needed to achieve carbon neutral buildings to be made in Wales.

●     Planting of harvestable forests to establish a secure renewable supply of timber, and further support our rural economy.

●     Urban regeneration to create green sustainable towns and cities.

●     Developing digital and robotic technologies for the construction industry.

●     Strengthening connectivity to allow urban centres across Wales to embrace Smart City technology.

To build differently will require new skills, and if we are to achieve the maximum benefit for the Welsh economy and mitigate the personal impact of the recession new training and apprenticeship programmes will need to be put in place quickly. Whilst time isn’t on our side, now is the time to undertake a rapid and robust study to identify the skills that will be needed and the optimum way to deliver them. We will see a situation where highly skilled people will be looking to find new roles, and as identified by City and Guilds a significant number of lower skilled and lower waged people are likely to feel the recessional impact of COVID-19.

To help further explain the need for a skills revolution Wyn Prichard, NPTC Director of Construction Skills explains,

“Having been involved in skills and learning for over more than 20 years, the current crisis brings with it, an opportunity to challenge the status quo. We, at NPTC Group, have been working with a number of key partners and federations, to deliver the new skills needed, as the sector moves forward in the new environment, with the focus on manufacture, engineering as well as traditional craft skills. Our focus is on these key areas to deliver jobs and opportunities in Wales through offsite, green and sustainable building, retrofit and fire preventative skills. If we get this right, there are real opportunities to lead the way in Wales, through a highly trained workforce, aligned to key strategic policies in Wales.”

We are already starting to embrace new methods of construction, and in the short term it will be critical to put in place the appropriate training that will be needed to ensure the sector has sufficient numbers of people with the right skills.

In the medium to long term, many aspects of construction will be transformed through increased digital connectivity, automation, robotics and AI. If Wales can focus and invest in the research and development, and training needed to put us at the forefront of the technological revolution in the built environment we can create a highly resilient, forward thinking innovation based construction sector. This would have the potential to not only be transformational within Wales, but would also provide us with a foundation to export our expertise to further benefit our economy.