Structural Timber Association: Standardised skills for offsite construction

In the world of off-site construction, timber frame is one of the fastest-growing techniques. But the available skills are not keeping pace with the trend. 

The Structural Timber Association (STA) decided to address the gap. 

“STA has a policy to raise the bar in everything we do, including skills,” says Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of STA. 

picture of a worker putting up part of a timber internal frame

Keeping pace with trends

“We had workbooks that had been around for several years, so we wanted funding to update them and use them to disseminate information and best practice; to turn them into something useful,” says Andrew. 

“Originally, colleges weren’t prepared to invest in courses they didn’t see a need for on the horizon. More off-site construction solutions are being sought now, and timber frame is by far and away the fastest growing.”

Following a successful application, CITB funding was used to develop high-quality, comprehensive digital workbooks covering the design and manufacturing of timber frame construction, from sourcing material to completion of a project.

The standardisation challenge

Available to members for download via the STA website, there are two sets of workbooks, comprising three volumes each: “knowledge”, “practical skills” and “health and safety”.

They outline crucial issues too, such as how modern methods of construction are adapting to environmental and political influences, as well as tackling the subjects of sustainability and durability through insulation and acoustics performance.

Content was developed in consultation with CITB and industry stakeholders. But STA selected Edinburgh Napier University to draft the content; with good reason. The university has an active relationship with the industry and its Centre for Offsite Construction and Innovative Structures carries out cutting-edge research. It also has a track record of publishing books on off-site construction, which contributed to the university winning the Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2015.

Mila Duncheva, lead author of the workbooks and Associate Lecturer at the centre says: “It’s critical to address the skills gap in the industry and clearly map out what training exists and how it should be enhanced. We wanted to provide standardised knowledge so there’s only one source of information.

“Previously, materials on timber frame construction were very academic and disconnected. The main aim is to standardise the training available to people across country so there’s only one source of information in the industry and therefore achieve higher quality,” she says.

Snapshot

Company: Structural Timber Association (STA)

Sector: Membership organisation

Challenge:  Standardise training on off-site construction

Funding: £55,000

Fund type: Flexible Fund

Location: Nationwide

Impact: STA and Edinburgh Napier University have created a comprehensive, quality source of knowledge for the entire structural timber frame  industry.

“We wanted to provide standardised knowledge so there’s only one source of information.”

Mila Duncheva, Associate Lecturer, Centre for Offsite Construction and Innovative Structures, Edinburgh Napier University

Standardisation also has important repercussions for those already working in the industry.

“Typically, people get trained by a specific manufacturer and become very familiar with that manufacturer’s system,” Mila says. “If they change job, it becomes very challenging to transfer skills.”

A bright future

The workbooks look set to remain relevant for a long time to come.

Today, 570 companies and all their staff with access to the members’ area of the STA website can access the workbooks. Talks have recently begun with colleges about using the workbooks as part of their curriculum, including South Lanarkshire College, which now plans to use them as course material.

And next year, the association will develop an online test and certification linked to the workbooks.

But in the meantime, STA is tackling another huge challenge through the workbooks: breaking down preconceptions. Mila says they have an overall focus on how off-site construction is an attractive career choice and a way to improve the built environment for everyone.

“The main challenge is that there are not enough new entrants going into the industry, which is connected to a poor image of the industry. We’re trying to target these issues with the workbooks.”