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The RAAC Crisis: A Wake-Up Call for Materials Science Apprenticeships in the UK

The RAAC Crisis: A Wake-Up Call for Materials Science Apprenticeships in the UK

The RAAC crisis has lifted the lid on the true state of our built environment, and highlighted the urgent need for a robust pipeline of materials science talent.

Along with the whole country, I’ve been watching with concern as the RAAC crisis continues to unfold in our schools and colleges. As well as representing another disruption to a cohort of students who have been hit hard by Covid, it is also a troubling insight into the state of infrastructure in the UK.

At Tiro, we are incredibly proud of our partnerships with the concrete and materials science sectors, and working alongside them has given me a deeper appreciation for how urgently we need to address skills shortages in these areas.

RAAC was touted as a cost effective and efficient building material for schools when it was first implemented, but research now suggests that it could become up to 25% weaker when exposed to water and is liable to develop cracks around steel beams.

This throws into sharp relief the importance of the work done by material scientists, who are at the forefront of researching and testing concrete for use in the UK’s biggest infrastructure challenges. Worryingly, materials science and construction are two sectors facing significant skills shortages, with many experienced workers reaching the end of their careers and a lack of talent coming through to replace them.

There are many reasons for this stalled pipeline of talent, and there isn’t one simple way to fix it. However, one solution that cannot be overlooked is investing in a strong apprenticeship programme. I have seen first-hand the impact of bringing in apprentices to learn these skills directly from the experts on the ground, and how they have gone on to play a role in some of the most important new infrastructure projects in the UK. Working with partners like Balfour Beatty, we’ve placed apprentices that have developed materials for projects as varied as Hinkley Point and Crossrail, pouring concrete that is guaranteed to hold strong for over 100 years.

While university education is undoubtedly valuable, apprenticeships offer a direct pathway into the workforce, allowing young individuals to gain practical experience and contribute to real-world projects from day one. These apprenticeships can bridge the gap between theory and application, producing professionals who are not only knowledgeable but also capable of solving real-world problems.

Our nation’s future infrastructure depends on a robust pipeline of skilled materials scientists, and apprenticeships are a key part of the solution. The government and industry leaders must work together to promote and expand apprenticeship programs in materials science, offering young people a clear and attractive pathway into this vital field.

As more information continues to be released about the RAAC crisis, and more buildings are found to be at risk, the need for innovative solutions and effective solutions for safeguarding our built environment will only grow.

We must take action now to promote materials science apprenticeships and ensure a steady flow of skilled professionals who will play a crucial role in the future of UK infrastructure. Our commitment to this cause will determine the safety and longevity of our buildings and infrastructure for generations to come.

By Charlotte Blant, Tiro CEO

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