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Trussed rafter industry prepares for the future

A packed programme at the Trussed Rafter Association (TRA) AGM last month, brought together some of the industry’s most influential figures to give their insights into how trussed rafter manufacturers need to position themselves for the future.

Nearly 80 leaders of member companies attended the conference in Birmingham, in person after a gap of two years, to hear presentations on the most likely disruptions and hottest topics facing the sector. Modern methods of construction, changes in the future housing market, Net Zero and the impact of ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) issues were discussed. Presentations were also made about the new training programmes being developed for TRA members both in-house and in collaboration with higher education providers at New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering (NMITE).

TRA chief executive Nick Boulton welcomed everyone and said: “With the traditional, onsite subcontractor labour model seeming to struggle to supply the Government’s housing targets, a new model for delivering high quality, low carbon, offsite manufactured homes is now a policy priority. This will impact on the types of products required from TRA members and on their standard business model, but I believe provides potentially the most significant business opportunity that TRA members have seen in the last decade.”

Mark Farmer of Cast Consultancy returned to speak to TRA members after five years and reiterated the need to innovate or die, referring to the businesses that may not withstand the pressures of Brexit, Covid and now the war in Ukraine. He said the industry needed to become more resilient to the effects these issues have had on the supply chain and be less dependent on labour through increased use of MMC and pre-manufactured value.

Addressing the need to upskill the industry and combat labour shortages, Professor Robert Hairstans, founding director of the Centre for Advanced Timber Technologies at NMITE, and Tabitha Binding head of education and engagement at Timber Development UK (TDUK) spoke about the new facilities being built at NMITE, the University Design Challenge,  and the joint initiatives that are underway to bring together the different construction disciplines. Tabitha’s call to action was for timber engineering businesses and manufacturers to engage with TDUK and to work proactively across and within sectors and disciplines to educate, interact and enable better building practices with timber.

 Richard George, managing director of MiTek and chair of the TRA’s training committee, introduced the new Designer Development Programme (DDP) now available for members to upskill their teams. The members agreed that the training committee should aim to create a framework for the professional development of metal web joist designers next, now that three levels were available for rafter designers.

It was with great pleasure that the first three DDP graduates, Jenni Bunny of ETS, Leah Walters of Donaldson Timber Engineering and Jack Hepple of Truss Form, were awarded their certificates for completing level 1.

Economist and industry analyst Brian Green gave his take on the future of the housing market and modern methods of construction. Describing the three Ds – demographic change, decarbonisation, and digitalisation – he shared eye-opening facts and figures on the population of the UK and gave his predictions on changing housing needs in the near and long term.

Charlie Law, TDUK’s sustainability director, explained the stages of the whole life cycle carbon assessment of building products.  With the UK’s Net Zero goals firmly in view, he updated members on the TDUK’s work to develop a Net Zero roadmap for the industry, and the environmental product declarations that members’ products would need.

In a thought-provoking presentation, Liz Male, director of LMC, described the route that small businesses might take to achieve their own carbon reduction goals. She signposted delegates to useful resources, including the SME Climate Hub, as well as showing how even the smallest business can develop an environmental and CSR policy to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals and even achieve B Corp status. Liz encouraged all TRA members to share their tips on how their businesses can have a positive impact on society.

To round the event off, leaders of three member companies, Stephen Thompstone of Wyckham Blackwell, Ross Baxter of Saint-Gobain Offsite Solutions and Nick Kershaw of National Timber Systems joined a panel led by Nick Boulton to discuss the current state of the market and to share their experiences on topics such as wage inflation, labour shortages and innovation in the trussed rafter industry.

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