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New research shows Houses of Parliament restoration will bring opportunities for the next generation of heritage and conservation specialists

next generation of heritage and conservation specialists
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Hundreds of new heritage craftspeople and conservation specialists will be needed to fill roles in traditional crafts ahead of the essential work to restore the Houses of Parliament buildings.

Heritage plasters and carpenters, stonemasons, and historic window restorers are just some of the jobs that will be in high demand throughout the Parliament restoration programme, and a national assessment of thousands of suppliers and training providers has found that more specialists will be needed in some areas.

Falling demand over decades has led to a smaller heritage and conservation industry that will need to be boosted ahead of the UK’s largest ever restoration programme to save the Palace of Westminster.

In some areas such as heritage plastering, research suggests that more than a third of the specialists currently working in the UK will be needed in the complex programme of essential work to restore Parliament. The restoration programme could also need as many as 34% of all heritage window specialists in the UK.

The Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Programme (R&R) will work with heritage and conservation organisations to encourage people into these specialist professions and contribute to the restoration. Initiatives could include:

  • Funding bursaries to support people from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds to start careers in the heritage sector.
  • Working with centres of excellence across the UK to train people in traditional heritage and conservation skills.
  • Launch of a new website to give maximum visibility of procurement opportunities for suppliers.
  • Delivering additional pledges as part of our supply chain work to support heritage skills and training commitments such as apprenticeships, school engagement and work placements.

The restoration programme is committed to social mobility, diversity and developing skills for people across the UK as it completes the first phase of the project. A first group of apprentices has already joined the restoration teams, and an internship partnership with the Social Mobility Foundation is ongoing.

Specialists from across the UK are already involved with the extensive programme of surveys which have been taking place since the summer to build a detailed understanding of the buildings as the detailed and costed restoration plan is developed.

Mike Brown CBE MVO, Chair of the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority, said: 

“Restoring Parliament will create thousands of jobs and apprenticeships across the UK, but this will hinge on getting the right numbers of skilled people to work with us.

“This Skills Assessment has allowed the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Programme to identify areas of shortage and engage with our key industries and training providers to create new jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities which will be vital to the restoration of one of the world’s most widely recognised buildings.”

Through a newly established joint ‘Heritage Client Group’ (including Historic England, CADW, Historic Environment Scotland and others), the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Programme will work with heritage and conservation organisations to explore a range of initiatives to encourage more people into high-demand professions.

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Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive at Historic England, said:

This research provides clear statement of intent to the heritage construction sector and its partners. The Restoration and Renewal of the Houses of Parliament presents an unprecedented opportunity to address long-standing heritage skills construction shortages in England and the wider UK, focussing on areas of greatest need, such as plastering and joinery.

“The Hamish Ogston Foundation Heritage Building Skills Programme managed by Historic England is already training people in these skills in the North of England, but there is need for even greater investment across the whole of the country. We look forward to working with our existing network of training providers to explore how models of excellence might be extended.”

A lack of skilled heritage craftspeople is a concern for nearly half (47%) of the heritage industry and 90% agree that investment in skills is crucial for the future, especially as only 18% of heritage companies employ staff aged under 25.

The Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal will create thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships, while boosting both traditional and cutting-edge skills, involving craftspeople and businesses from across the UK in a national effort. Parliament will be invited to approve the detailed restoration plan in 2023.

The Palace of Westminster, home of Parliament, is one of the most recognised buildings in the world, but it’s falling apart faster than it can be fixed and is in urgent need of fundamental repair. 

Restoring and renewing the Palace of Westminster will create thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships, while involving craftspeople and businesses from across the UK in a national effort. 

The R&R programme has been working with Pye Tait Consulting and Whole Life Consultants who have produced a report into the skills landscape of the UK, identifying skills gaps in the industries which will be crucial to the success of the restoration and renewal of the Houses of Parliament.

Mike Brown CBE, Chair of the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority visited the Building Crafts College in Stratford this week to announce the news and engage with heritage craft students, apprentices and professors. 

Founded by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters in 1893, the Building Crafts College has a long tradition of delivering high quality education training in building crafts and building conservation. The student population of the College is diverse, with a wide range of ages and backgrounds attending courses from across the UK.

Key facts and figures:

  • In 2018, there were 51,150 people enrolled on heritage-related construction courses.
  • In 2019, The Heritage Crafts Association put together a “Red List” of heritage skills considered to be at risk of being lost. It included crafts which have become ‘extinct’ as well as those deemed ‘critically endangered’.
  • The shortage of skilled craftspeople is a concern for 47% of the heritage industry and 90% agree that investment in skills is crucial for the future.
  • The most common skills lacking among heritage workers are: “specialist skills or knowledge needed to perform the role” (an estimated 55% of all heritage employers with a skills gap have workers lacking this skill).
  • Only 10% of contractors who work on traditional buildings have a member of staff with qualifications or experience relating to heritage or traditional craft skills.
  • Only 276 heritage companies (18%) report employing staff aged under 25. The mean percentage of staff of this age group is 22.5%.
  • Post-19 work accounts for around 69% of the work of heritage companies.
  • Only around 10% of heritage companies reported any heritage-specific qualifications at all.
  • It takes 5 to 10 years for workers to become skilled and confident in heritage work, needing training and experience/exposure.
  • Stonework roles (masonry and carving) appear to be most difficult to fill, followed closely by heritage joinery, cabinet making and roofing. On the other hand, more mainstream activities such as asbestos removal, decorating/painting, and modern plastering appear to be easier roles to fill.
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