Stormking explores the challenges the pandemic has brought to manufacturing, and the way in which the UK construction industry has responded to the pressures so far, particularly the move to offsite
When it comes to manufacturing, the UK is a global leader, producing high-quality components during wars, political and domestic conflicts.
The coronavirus has proven to be a different kind of threat, however. Although many manufacturing facilities are adapting to the new normal, it is anticipated that it will take until 2022 for UK manufacturing to recover its pre-Covid 19 growth trajectory, according to the report: ‘Responding, Resetting, Reinventing UK Manufacturing Post Covid-19’.
With this new reality made all the more challenging with a housing crisis and a construction industry skills shortage, how can the UK respond to this pressure? What can be done to ensure UK manufacturing continues on the right course and avoids any uncertainties that might stand in its way?
Manufacturing is at the heart of Britain’s cultural and industrial identity – it is part of who we are as a nation.
Although it is sacred, during the peak of the coronavirus it is reported that manufacturers were operating between 25-50 per cent of their full capacity. These alarming figures were published in the report, ‘Responding, Resetting, Reinventing UK Manufacturing Post Covid-19’ by manufacturers’ organisation, Make UK in association with Santander.
This report is the first detailed analysis of the direct impacts of Covid-19 on the UK manufacturing industry, and its findings highlight that it will take until 2022 for the sector to recover its pre-Covid levels, with added costs of around £35.7bn.
For the construction industry – itself affected by the virus’ repercussions – the dent in the manufacturing sector’s productivity is problematic, especially when some parts of the industry rely on the goods this sector produces. This problem is further compounded by other issues which leave housebuilders at a difficult crossroad. The construction industry is facing a huge skills shortage. It is said 22 per cent of the workforce is over 50, and there isn’t a sufficient pipeline of talented youngsters who can succeed them.
These issues are further augmented by a housing crisis; something that has understandably taken a backseat during the pandemic but one which we shouldn’t forget nonetheless. The UK Government in June stressed the need to ‘build, build, build’, as the nation continued to fall behind its aim to ramp up annual construction to 300,000 a year by 2050.
Taking all of these aspects into consideration, it is difficult not to feel overwhelmed. Housebuilders are faced with the challenge to build homes when industries are facing skills shortages, pressure from the Government, and a drop in manufacturing productivity. These concerns are all framed within a post-Brexit, mid-pandemic Britain that is also at the crown of a recession.
All is not lost, however, as housebuilders and others in the industry can use this time to rethink the way they produce and deliver homes.
Although the ‘Responding, Resetting, Reinventing UK Manufacturing Post Covid-19’ report highlights Covid-19’s effect on manufacturing, it makes timely and notable recommendations to the Government to ask for better awareness of the importance of manufacturing. This championing of Britain’s industrialism is reinforced by a resurgence in British manufacturing techniques and products – something that will only prove to be more important as the UK becomes more independent post-Brexit.
UK offsite manufacturing is one of these alternative methods of construction which will help the industry combat its skills shortage and meet its housebuilding aims too. Speedier installations, less labour-intensive, higher quality control; the benefits of offsite manufacturing to the housebuilding sector are wide-ranging.
It will be very difficult to meet the UK’s housing shortage with traditional methods alone; there simply isn’t the labour available. With the correct installation guides and training, products manufactured offsite are easier to install, which is a worthy benefit when considering the industry’s huge skills shortage.
With a GRP chimney for instance, a housebuilder doesn’t need to employ a traditional tradesperson. The product can be crane-lifted to the roof, where it sits straight onto the structure to be fixed in place – it is as simple as that! Contractors can tile up to the chimney as they ordinarily would. Some products are also pre-leaded at the bottom to keep them secure in inclement weather conditions.
On larger orders where the same product is needed in higher volumes, offsite manufacturing guarantees the same quality finish is met every time. In a period where it is sometimes difficult to get relevant tradespeople, offsite manufacturing is a winner.
If financial costs are ever obstructing the view of offsite manufacturing, take comfort in the fact that its costs can be neutralised when compared to traditional construction, or offset by the savings in terms of repair costs.
The benefit of offsite manufacturing extends further however – such that it has to be a national priority. The industry desperately needs speedier alternatives which alleviate the burden on the current workforce and ensure the industry meets the Government’s new homes target. Without the help of offsite manufacturing the sector may just, regrettably, flounder.
Stormking is a leading supplier of GRP building components and solutions