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New heritage qualification launched as construction industry and built heritage sector meet to plan a raft of measures to help save our historic buildings

Sir Micheal Latham chairman of ConstructionSkills

A new NVQ Level 3 in Heritage Skills has been launched as part of a package of measures to address the skills crisis in the built heritage sector. Thousands of new recruits are needed annually in order to meet the high level of demand for traditional heritage skills used in the repair and conservation of historic buildings…

Major players representing a broad spectrum from across the construction sector convened in London, at an event organised by ConstructionSkills and the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG), to draw up an action plan to ensure yesterday’s buildings have the recruits needed to maintain them.

Pre-919 building stock forms a significant part of the built environment, representing 20% of the total building stock in England and Scotland and one-third in Wales, and in terms of sustainability it is imperative that these are appropriately maintained and repaired. Repair and maintenance on pre-1919 buildings is worth an estimated £5.2billion every year in England, Scotland and Wales, so it is a vital part of mainstream construction.

The new NVQ qualification is aimed at people already in the construction industry who want to develop new skills and knowledge relating to traditional building skills and materials. For the first time it also provides a relevant qualification for experienced craftspeople already working in the traditional build conservation, repair and maintenance sector.

A target of 250 students has been set for the NVQ in its first year and students will be able to start the course from September 2007. Further education colleges including Oxford and Cherwell, North Nottinghamshire and Craven College in Skipton and Building Crafts College in London are already preparing to deliver courses to support the delivery of the NVQ and recruitment of NVQ assessors is underway.

Ronnie Clifford, Director, Ornate Interiors; "I've worked as a specialist plasterer for over 22 years and for the first time in my career there is now an appropriate qualification for people like me who repair and maintain historic buildings. For this reason I intend to be one of the first to get the new Heritage Skills NVQ."

Launched at an event endorsed by HRH Prince of Wales and attended by major contractors, developers, federations, local authorities, heritage bodies, Government departments and training providers, the new NVQ is just one of many initiatives underway to preserve our built heritage.

The event is part of the NHTG’s ongoing work with the UK’s heritage agencies and funders to help them ensure skills requirements are specified as part of their grant conditions and procurement processes and that there is co-ordination in the delivery of heritage skills training and development.

In preparation for the launch of the NVQ the NHTG developed the Training the Trainers programme designed to improve the knowledge and skills of FE college lecturers in aspects of building conservation and restoration and to aid in course development. The course has run for two years and in 2007 was attended by 22 college lecturers.

The NVQ’s development owes much to the efforts of the NHTG who began by mapping the labour and skills situation within the built heritage sector throughout the UK. The research for Wales was launched today and the English and Scottish research was completed in 2005 and early 2007 respectively, with the Northern Ireland research to follow shortly. The Welsh research underlines not only the role our built heritage plays in preserving the distinctive national and regional styles that so enrich and enliven the fabric of our national landscape but also the very real contribution it makes in terms of the GDP, with maintenance, conservation and restoration work on pre-1919 buildings estimated to be worth up to £122m in Wales.

Other measures helping to save our built heritage include:

  • Promoting the Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme - offering £1 million in funding to help craftspeople, trainees and career changers to up-skill in this sector.
  • Working with colleges to encourage them to offer traditional building skills courses, and particularly running courses to develop the skills of their trainers.
  • Jointly funding a Heritage Academy which will offer accredited training in a range of craft skills and related heritage skills at Higher Education level.
  • Organisation of skills events and distribution of promotional material such as the specialist careers brochure.

Seamus Hanna Heritage & Conservation Manager, ConstructionSkills said: “Many of the specialist skills needed to preserve our built heritage, from traditional plasterwork and masonry repairs to dry stone walling and thatching, have declined through the latter half of the 20th century, creating the very real risk that they may die out completely. Until now qualifications in the heritage sector have often been very specialised and pathways for continued development for existing craftspeople have been limited. The new Heritage NVQ will offer a new pathway for potentially thousands of people and encourage them to stay in or enter this sector.

It is critical that today’s event not only galvanises action from those key players already working in the sector but also educates the construction industry at large of the need to understand the requirements specific to the pre-1919 building stock.“

For more information call the National Specialist team on Tel: 01509 282 860.

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