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Home > News > July 2005 > 07-Jul-2005

Skills shortages threaten England's historic buildings, says report

England's historic buildings are under threat from a shortage of skilled craftspeople. That’s according to research into the labour and skills situation in the built heritage sector, published by the National Heritage Training Group.

Backed by the ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry and English Heritage, the research found that in England more than 86,000 people currently work within the built heritage sector, preserving some 4.41m historic dwellings and 550,000 historic commercial buildings (including 484,641 listed buildings).

However, with nearly a quarter of contractors having outstanding vacancies and the workload ever increasing, the industry needs to recruit an additional 6,500 people in the next 12 months just to meet immediate demand.

According to the report, in order to meet the current demand for the conservation and restoration of historic buildings – on which £3.5bn is spent every year – the built heritage sector needs to recruit over 500 speciality bricklayers, carpenters and slate and tile roofers; 400 joiners, lead workers and stonemasons; and 300 painters and decorators and 300 thatchers over the next year.

However, experts also fear that in 15-20 years time, the smaller numbered and more vulnerable craft skills such as drystone walling, thatching, millwrighting, earth walling, and flint-knapping could disappear completely.

In England today, there are currently only around 270 professional members of the Dry Stone Walling Association, less than 1,000 thatchers and about 50 firms who work on cob and earth buildings. In the next 12 months alone, there is a need for almost 200 lime plasterers, around 140 wattle and daub craftspeople, over 100 glaziers, over 80 clay dabbins craftspeople, and almost 60 cob builders and dry stone wallers.

John Fidler, Conservation Director at English Heritage, said of the findings: "Not only does the report produce yet further evidence that heritage conservation skills are at risk, but uniquely it puts forward an action plan to tackle specific problems.

“The message is very clear: it is time for joined-up thinking and concerted action across the construction industry, the built heritage sector, educational establishments, careers organisations, funding bodies and government departments to tackle a vital issue that is at the heart of sustaining two things which people hold very dear in this country – beautiful historic buildings and the craftsmanship that maintains them."

Almost two-thirds of public and commercial stockholders and private home dwellers interviewed in the research expressed a high level of satisfaction with the work done on their property. However, less than half were happy with the completion time of the work, with 54 per cent of public and commercial stockholders and 42 per cent of private stockholders citing a labour or skills shortage as the reason for a delay. The research found that the shortage in many parts of the country is so acute that there can be a wait of over three months for the right skilled craftsperson.

Peter Lobban, Chief Executive of ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry, added: "In order to preserve our country's historic buildings, it will be equally important to maintain our crafts people’s historic skills.

“Although it's reassuring to know that many clients are happy with the skills out there, it's clear that lack of necessary craft training in some areas is potentially having a knock-on effect on our built heritage. As the Sector Skills Council for the industry, we'll be working with English Heritage and others within the sector to ensure that we have the right skills, in the right place, at the right time to maintain these significant buildings and ensure that some of our more vulnerable trades don't die out."

Following on from the signing of a Sector Skills Agreement between ConstructionSkills and English Heritage in December 2004, the findings of the report have prompted the National Heritage Training Group to develop a Skills Action Plan to address skills shortages and encourage more people into the sector. The main aspects of the plan include:

* Supporting the need for parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes

* Campaigning to raise the profile of vocational training and the built heritage sector and to attract more young people to pursue careers within it

* Securing funding for a heritage conservation qualification at NVQ Level 3 and adult apprenticeships

* Developing a rolling programme for 'Training the Trainers' to improve delivery of conservation, repair and maintenance at NVQ Level 3

* Developing current and new qualifications to ensure traditional building craft practical knowledge and skills can be gained from GCSE to Master Craft level

* Supporting the development of regional training centres of excellence, based upon the COVE network and an approved network of training provision

* Working with professional institutions to promote good practice in using a suitably skilled and qualified workforce

* Supporting the Trade Federations, Chartered Institute of Builders and DTI to implement a Quality Scheme to provide consumer protection from poor work by unqualified people

David Linford, Chairman of the National Heritage Training Group added: "The Skills Action Plan has been developed in consultation with everyone involved in heritage building skills – from employers, to education providers and clients. We believe it offers a robust solution to the current threats to vulnerable trades and buildings and look forward to many years of safeguarding the country's built heritage."

External links

National Heritage Training Group

ConstructionSkills

English Heritage

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