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5M historic buildings at risk from skills shortage

A dearth of skilled craftspeople is jeopardising historic buildings, according to a new report from National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) and ConstructionSkills.

The report states that although the situation has improved slightly since 2005, the future of some 5M buildings built before 1919 could be in doubt, as most of the repair workforce do not have the skills needed to do the job properly.

They looked at the 500,000 architects, engineers, surveyors, conservation officers and other professionals, and found that only 507 of them are building conservation-accredited.

Chief Executive of ConstructionSkills, Peter Lobban, said: "We've taken some giant steps to ensure that more people are taking up these traditional building crafts that are so important to preserving the country's heritage buildings.

"But there is more work to do. Many of the people undertaking repair and maintenance work on pre-1919 buildings need upskilling to guarantee that tasks are completed to the highest possible standard and England’s iconic and more humble buildings are not spoilt. To address this issue, we have developed a variety of flexible on-site training schemes and new heritage qualifications."

While the number of craftspeople in this sector has reduced by 3,000 since 2005, but with only 36% of contractors working on pre-1919 buildings, only 33,000 craftspeople are estimated to undertake work with traditional materials.

While around 16,000 mostly new entrants were identified as requiring some form of traditional building skills training in 2007, the report suggests that over two-thirds of the work, of which 67% is for private home-owners, is being carried out by those without the right skills and materials.

Director of Conservation at English Heritage, Bill Martin, said: "The serious shortage of craftspeople that was highlighted in our first report three years ago captured the imagination of many people and has resulted in a huge renewal of interest in careers in the heritage build sector.

"The 3000-strong force of new blood is crucial to addressing the succession problem within the sector. We may be reversing a trend but clearly there is still lots to do to make sure the quality of work is maintained. These skills issues affect not just listed buildings, but the whole swathe of undesignated and locally important heritage and conservation areas that form an integral part of the historic environment."

National Heritage Training Group and its partners will now be investing £1M to help reduce the skills gap, to be spent on:

- Raising awareness of the built heritage sector
- Encouraging up-take of qualifications such as the Heritage Skills NVQ Level 3 and a Heritage Apprenticeship Programme
- Supporting Regional Heritage Skills Action Groups – providing training and skills development to meet regional demand and need
- A mentoring programme, with experienced craftspeople passing on skills and knowledge to less experienced practitioners
- Expanding the number of National Heritage Training Academies

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