Sadly talk of a skills gap is nothing new in the construction industry but the need to address it is becoming increasingly pressing. For the timber trades, however, there are very specific requirements and while we may see investment in training and upskilling in the wider sector, it is not going to deliver that vital flow of new talent we need to thrive in the medium to long term.

The CITB published a report in June 2013 on the Skills Needs of Specialist Construction and timber frame was one of the sectors covered. It recognised that wood trades such as woodworking and timber frame erection had specialist skills requirements and one key outcome was addressing the problem with apprenticeships. A Timber Frame Erection Apprenticeship (SVQ Level 2) has just been put into place but we need to go further and introduce an apprenticeship scheme based around the off-site manufacture of timber systems. The general carpentry and joinery courses currently available are not specific enough for timber frame off-site manufacturing roles so hopefully this is something that will be progressed in the future.

While there have been discussions on the creation of a wood engineering apprenticeship programme it is yet to materialise and another academic year is now under way with no intake of students who will leave with the necessary skills and qualifications needed to drive the timber frame sector forward in the future.

We manufacture and erect timber kits, both for our parent company, the fourth generation family business Mactaggart & Mickel Group, and also for a wide variety of residential and commercial property clients. Not only are we working against a backdrop of skills shortages on the factory floor and erect teams out on site, but the timber frame industry supply chain is becoming increasingly squeezed by a rapidly increasing demand on their limited resources. Vital components like roof trusses and staircases require skilled manufacturing; qualified and experienced estimators are needed to go out and price new jobs to bring in business. From end to end, the timber frame process is one that requires specialist skills.

It is also vital that we capture the invaluable knowledge and insight of colleagues who have years of experience under their tool belt through mentoring programmes for younger staff. Just last year CITB issued the stark warning that more than 400,000 people are set to retire in the construction sector in the next 5-10 years, taking with them a wealth of expertise.

Business is improving, people are seeing their order books fill up, yet we still aren’t seeing the level of proactive action we need to fill this skills gap. Without this commitment, we are hindering the natural growth and expansion of the timber systems industry. It is encouraging to see the introduction of the Timber Frame Erection Apprenticeship scheme, however, more needs to be done and hopefully this is something we will see in the near future.