Building Tomorrow’s Workforce

Terry Wain, technical secretary at the Liquid Roofing and Waterproofing Association (LRWA), comments on the issues in the roofing industry brought on by the skills shortage, and what needs to be done to help bridge the gap.

It is estimated that more than 200,000 construction workers will be needed in the UK during the next five years if we are to meet expected output growth of more than 20% by 2019. This includes demand in the roofing industry, but the gap in skilled labour is continuing to widen. The recession in 2008 is a huge contributor to the skills shortage in construction, but there are other factors within the roofing sector specifically which need to be addressed.

Quality Control
In any building project, meeting quality standards is of paramount importance, and a key driver to achieving this is appropriate training. Many smaller roofing contractors may not have the capacity or budget to up-skill their teams, and investment in training often can’t be made. Additionally, to have operatives off-site for a period of time can setback a programme of delivery and many contractors simply cannot afford to risk a delay in the completion of a project. Yet without essential training, operatives are less likely to be installing a safe, compliant system, and it’s worth considering the long term benefits of quality training for the team.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of different flat roofing products – with more liquid products emerging onto the market every year – requiring varying levels of application dependent on the different chemistry type it is based on. These systems can be specified on a project at any time, so it’s important that contractors have the skills in place to provide a sound waterproofing system for the end user.

Access To Training
A lack of regulation in roofing training is an issue which has been magnified thanks to the skills shortage. There is currently no set ruling on training, but operatives should achieve NVQ Level 2, which promotes quality standards to both clients and end users.

Gaining an NVQ level 2 qualification through the LRWA Specialist Apprenticeship Programme requires a minimum of 22 days of classroom-based learning with the remaining instruction and assessment training completed on site. For more experienced workers, the Specialist Up Skilling Program takes a minimum of five days, plus an onsite assessment. Some may argue this investment of time for an operative to be offsite training can be difficult to manage, however, the long-term benefits of quality training must be considered as a major benefit to all involved.
There are many organisations that offer courses in all varieties of systems from single ply to hot melts and liquids – however contractors must be extremely vigilant when choosing a training provider as the quality standards of these training providers can vary considerably. It’s always advisable to seek a recognised industry body, like the LRWA, to deliver specialist training led by an experienced team.

However, the responsibility of training shouldn’t fall solely on contractors. Manufacturers should operate their own approved contractor schemes ensuring operatives are provided with the full training needed to work with the manufacturers’ products properly and are supported on site to deliver high standard projects. All LRWA manufacturer members offer this as part of meeting membership criteria, and LRWA launched its Basic Competency Programme (BCP) in 2015, recognised by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).
A first for the industry, the BCP acknowledges the contribution of manufacturers towards providing a skills base through training in the use of their materials to satisfy the requirements of the experienced worker, Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card. More than 1,000 operatives have successfully completed the programme since its launch, which has further enhanced the quality of manufacturer training.

Trusted manufacturers should also offer a system guarantee for clients, developed to build the confidence of the contractor, specifier and the end user. It is therefore in the manufacturer’s interest to provide training schemes to ensure operatives are fully qualified to apply each product system to manufacturers exacting standards.

Nurturing New Talent
In the construction industry, the total number of workers aged over 60 has increased more than any other age group, and the biggest reduction of workers in the sector are those under 30, according to a study by Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

An ageing workforce is definitely upon us in the roofing industry, and without increased awareness and education in schools and colleges, the next generation of roofers will be hard to find. This lack of engagement coupled with the rise in digital and service-based jobs has seen a decline in the recruitment of new roofers. We all know a career in roofing can be rewarding and lucrative, and we need to encourage and educate the next generation of roofers if we are to try and combat the skills shortage in our sector.

More could be done to work with schools and colleges to deliver training and some do offer partnerships with contractor employers, whereby curriculums are developed hand-in-hand with the mechanics of a company to allow for work-ready learners. More of these employer partnerships need to be made to encourage young people to join the sector.

Yet this comes at a cost and unlike other construction trades, roofing systems vary massively, which can cause problems logistically with training facilities needing to be adapted according to the specific system. Application training presents other health and safety issues with liquids such as ventilation and handling hazardous chemicals. There are a few training providers which offer detailed courses, but there aren’t enough.

Working Together
As part of the drive for quality in the liquid sector, the LRWA continues to increase awareness of the training available and to promote best practice in the liquid roofing industry. However, the sector must work together, communicate more with manufacturers, specifiers and end users, promote job opportunities and develop quality and in-depth training of systems – which ultimately could help build the workforce of tomorrow.