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Urgent call for skilled workers needed to protect Wales’ historic buildings

10 times more skilled workers needed to sustain Wales’ built heritage

11 July 2007

Wales’ historic buildings, need more skilled and qualified workers to undertake conservation, restoration, repair and maintenance work in order to stop them from falling into disrepair.

The findings come from a groundbreaking research report by the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) into the labour and skills situation within the built heritage sector in Wales.

The ‘Traditional Building Craft Skills: Assessing the Need, Meeting the Challenge’ report is the first ever skills needs analysis of the traditional building sector in Wales. The report was jointly funded by ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council (SCC) for construction, which is working towards delivering a safer, more professional and fully qualified construction workforce, and Cadw the Welsh Assembly Government’s historic environment service .

The report was launched today at the NHTG’s first national conference and will be showcased at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show on 24 July, where Jane Davidson, Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Sustainability and Rural Development, will be helping to highlight the findings of the report at the Cadw Histoirc Wales stand.

The ‘Traditional Building Craft Skills’ report highlights the need for immediate action and found that:

§ There are almost 500,000 pre-1919 building in Wales, representing one third of the total building stock - a larger proportion than in England and Scotland.

§ If all repair, maintenance, conservation and restoration work on pre-1919 buildings was undertaken using the required traditional building craft skills and materials the sector would constitute 4 per cent of the total construction output for Wales worth £122million. At current levels it constitutes 1.6% with an estimated value of £48 million.

§ Wales spends less on repair and maintenance of pre-1919 buildings than England.

§ A key issue facing Wales’s built heritage is that many of today’s craftspeople have had no formal training or skills development relevant to pre-1919 buildings.

§ In the next four years around 500 additional workers are required to meet demand

§ Ten times more people than at current levels are needed to enrol on a course leading to a recognised conservation qualification to provide the required skilled workforce.

§ As Wales’ traditional building stock ages, even more buildings will require repair and maintenance.

In order to meet the current demand and to provide the level of skills and resources required in the future, around 500 additional workers are needed, primarily within stonemasonry, carpentry, roofing (slate and tile) and plastering over the next four years. Experts fear that in 15-20 years time, the skills essential to repair, maintain, conserve and restore the pre-1919 building stock will be seriously threatened without immediate, coordinated action to provide specialist, targeted training for a range of traditional building craft skills.

The report has found that industry culture, trade practice and the historic lack of awareness among most building owners can lead to the use of inappropriate methods and materials on pre-1919 buildings. The report also shows that a growing demand for heritage skills training is demonstrated by the number of short courses being provided by independent organisations and material manufacturers and suppliers, yet there is practically no take-up of existing heritage skills modules offered on an optional basis by FE colleges. This is due to the content on construction courses being driven entirely by the new-build sector of the construction industry to the detriment of the traditional building skills sector. This can be reversed by courses teaching the difference in construction and repair and maintenance of old buildings from modern buildings.

The report has put forward a number of recommendations on how to address the skills need, including:

§ Providing further guidance to improve awareness among stakeholders, and those within the industry, of the need to use suitably skilled and qualified contractors;

§ Providing heritage skills training to existing construction workers who have no formal training in traditional craft skills;

§ Up-skilling the current workforce through more flexible forms of training provision, such as, short courses or mobile training

§ Making significant improvements in the amount and quality of traditional building skills training to ensure that this meets the skills requirements of the traditional building stock.

ConstructionSkills Wales Director, Wyn Prichard, commented: “The report is a real wake-up call and we must act to ensure that our pre-1919 buildings – that vital part of our built environment and an essential physical resource – are not lost. The launch of this important report today signals our intention to work with all our partners in the construction industry, the built heritage sector, educational establishments, careers organisations, funding bodies and assembly departments to meet the challenge. We need to create and sustain a revival in the use of traditional building skills and materials. As the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry we will tackle a vital issue - the survival of Wales’ historic buildings and the craftsmanship that maintains them. We must ensure that the right skills are in the right place, at the right time to maintain these significant buildings.”

Malcolm Coulson, Cadwraeth Cymru, the Conservation and Protection arm of CADW, said “Traditional conservation skills are an essential part of our work to protect Wales’ rich built heritage. We are committed to promoting and developing the widespread use of traditional building skills and materials for the repair and conservation of historic and traditional properties. However, to be effective across the whole traditional building sector we need the wider support of the construction industry and this can be best achieved by working in partnership with ConstructionSkills Wales and the National Heritage Training Group. There are already positive moves as Cadw currently has an apprentice training plan in place with two apprentice banker stonemasons taking advantage of the training on offer.”

Mike Moody, Chairman of the National Heritage Training Group says: “The report is not only telling people that there is a real problem and that skills handed down from generation to generation are now being threatened – the skills action plan within the report also provides real solutions. It is a genuine way for those within the sector to get involved to make a difference and train for the future.”

Peter Holden from Acanthus Holden Architects, a firm which specialise in sustainable design and conservation, said: “Attracting quality recruits is difficult and, as we have found, failing to do so can mean you miss out on potential business or the job goes to someone without the properly trained staff.  There are just not enough of us out there.  You only have to look around to see examples of where skilled professionals are urgently required to maintain a building. The launch of today’s findings can only be good news because the sooner the problem is acknowledged the sooner it can be addressed.”

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

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