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April 9, 2024

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Melius Homes

3 reasons offsite construction can increase diversity in the industry

If you’ve followed us for a while, you’ll know that we talk a lot about the benefits of offsite manufacturing in the delivery of whole house retrofit projects – less disruption for tenants, improved efficiency, quality assurance, and economies of scale.  

But, with its potential to broaden the potential workforce, it also provides an opportunity to tackle another huge challenge for the construction sector – the lack of diversity.  

In this blog, our in-house diversity and offsite manufacturing champions Emily Braham and Ele George share why it’s so essential we boost diversity in the sector, how offsite construction can support this and examples of companies already helping change the face of the sector.

Why is diversity vital to a better construction sector?

“I’m passionate about creating workforces that have a balance of people within them. During my time as head of energy at Nottingham City Homes, I’m proud that I appointed a team which was mostly women working in a range of roles – discover their inspirational stories,” says Emily Braham, our Strategy and Operations Director.  

She adds: “The sector is crying out for some young, fresh thinking from a more diverse group of people with a wide range of skills. But we know that there are elements of the industry that need to change for this to happen - and that’s something we’ve seen the retrofit sector support with its focus on offsite construction, manufacturing and digitalisation.”

Ele George, our former Collaboration Manager, agrees: “I believe a mix of voices at the table brings better outcomes for everyone. I’ve been in the construction industry for more than two decades, and Energiesprong is the first place I’ve worked where there are more women than men - as an engineer that is a novelty for me!”

“We have a huge task ahead of us to create a functioning, thriving retrofit sector that delivers warm, affordable homes and helps us meet our climate targets. That’s going to require more people to get involved – and it’s important they bring new ideas too.”

How can offsite construction make the sector more appealing to a wider range of people?

1. Working offsite is cleaner, safer, quieter and more varied

Say construction to someone just about to leave school and you’ll probably conjure up an image of a muddy, cold, grey building site. We need to show people that it can also involve much more diverse roles that don’t require working outside – including (but not limited to!) manufacturing components in a factory, using robots to survey buildings or employing new digital tools like VR for design and installation.

There are also other unexpected benefits of factory environments, says Ele: “On my recent visit to the TopHat factory in Derbyshire to see their timber frame manufacturing, I met a partially deaf operative who was supported by a consistent buddy allowing them to lipread with each other. Offsite environments are obviously much quieter and calmer than a building site, creating opportunities for employment for people with hearing difficulties, sight impairments or neurodivergent conditions.”

2. A factory environment offers flexible working

Delivering work onsite has rigid hours, with early starts and inflexible deadlines. But manufacturing elements offsite – like super-insulated wall panels for example - enables more flexible working patterns.  

One of our partners, Melius Homes, offers employees working at its advanced timber frame factory, ‘work what you can’ shifts to make it easier for parents and carers to flex around their other roles and responsibilities.  

Founder and Managing Director, Robert Lambe, said: “We have 20 employees working in our factory, many of whom are single parents, so it’s important we provide flexible working patterns that can accommodate their needs. We believe that having employees from different backgrounds is critical in addressing any skills challenges that are often common in the construction industry.”

3. Installation of offsite components can be less physically demanding

Working on a building site is an incredibly physical job which limits those who can get involved. But offsite components often don’t require as much intense labour – for example, using modular panels.

Emily Braham says: “At our Innovation Showcase event in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham (with site visits led by two women Alice Monty and Jenny Homer from Equans), I spoke to the first installers of the Ultrapanel ‘Housewrap’ system. It’s lightweight and easy to assemble, making it accessible to more people to become installers. In fact, they referred to it as “Lego for adults”!  

Ele adds: “I was really impressed when I visited TopHat to find out that more than 20% of their employees are women, well above the construction sector average of 14%. And the gender mix of the factory production line is 90:10 male to female which is also much greater than the standard 1-2% of females in operative roles on construction sites.”

The future of construction?

While offsite construction can absolutely support a more diverse industry, it will also require deliberate culture change to make people feel comfortable to join the sector – tackling systemic issues like sexism, racism and ableism.  

Ele says: “I’ve usually been in the minority in the companies I’ve worked at in the past. It’s a real pleasure to work with so many amazing women at Energiesprong UK – and the men are also brilliant allies and huge advocates for diversity in the retrofit and construction sectors.”

We need more people within the existing sector to become champions for a diverse workforce – both creating the jobs that attract a wider range of people and ensuring that the organisations are welcoming, accessible spaces once they are there. We look forward to continuing to work with some of the organisations leading the way.  

Photo caption: Melius Homes' employee working on super-insulated manufactured panels in its factory in Nottingham.

Find out more about encouraging diversity in the construction sector.

Find out more about why we think offsite manufacturing is key to scaling up retrofit.