Heritage Construction Skills Explained

Here in the UK we have a history of construction that goes way back in time – some of the oldest buildings still in use are in Britain and there are several initiatives in place to preserve these older buildings for future generations.  The National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) was founded by UK heritage agencies in collaboration with the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) in order to address concerns about the lack of experienced heritage crafts people and the sustainability of our built heritage. 

There are roughly 5.5 million traditional buildings (constructed before 1919) in England and another 505,000 in Scotland while Wales boasts 500,000 and the Republic of Ireland has 175,000.  However, most construction related degrees don’t include any conservation elements and traditional (or heritage) building skills and training has, until recently, relied on a few specialist training providers.  This lack of traditional skills has resulted in a general lack of knowledge about how traditional buildings were constructed and how they should be cared for and maintained. 

Most buildings constructed before 1919 are of solid wall construction and, therefore, need to enable the movement of moisture and air inside and through their fabric.  Because the wrong materials and techniques may have been used to care for and maintain these traditional buildings, many of them are now at risk of fabric decay, damp and other problems, leading them to be draughty and cold, costing a small fortune to keep warm. 

With so many contractors not having the knowledge and skills necessary to work on these traditional buildings, there is a great career opportunity available for those entering the construction industry who train in these skills and those already in the construction industry who are willing to retrain in order to develop these skills for the future.  The NHTG has compiled an online Heritage Craft Skills Training Directory listing more than 120 training providers in the UK.  The Directory can be searched by course type or qualification or craft so that it can be easily used by potential applicants. 

Because more than 20% of our buildings here in Britain are of traditional construction, there’s an increasing demand for people with the knowledge and skills necessary to work on these buildings to ensure that they’re properly cared for and maintained.  The Heritage Craft Alliance (HCA) was awarded “Apprenticeship Champion” in 2014 for its training work with young people and is working diligently to address the requirement for traditional skills throughout the UK.  HCA partners with master craftsmen to ensure the transfer of skills and knowledge to the next generation of heritage construction professionals. 

The Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme offers apprenticeships in a range of traditional building skills which include the following:

·         Carpentry and joinery

·         Stone masonry

·         Brickwork

·         Painting and decorating

·         Plumbing

·         Roofing

·         Metalwork

The on-the-job training opportunities can give an apprentice the skills necessary to work in the built heritage sector with the work they carry out counting towards work based evidence to obtain an NVQ Level 3 Heritage qualification.