The trend towards offsite construction is creating a need for new onsite skills in project management and component assembly. This is being addressed by a new national program, being developed by Victoria’s Box Hill Institute of TAFE, with advice from the forest and wood products industry initiative, WoodSolutions.
While Australia has long had a small prefabricated building sector primarily producing shedding and Class 1 homes, the last few years have seen a rapid acceleration in interest in offsite construction, largely facilitated by changes to the National Construction Code (NCC).
Changes to the NCC in 2016 made it easier to use traditional stick framing or the newer mass timber systems in Classes 2 and 3 (multi-residential, accommodation and hospitality) and Class 5 (offices) buildings up to an effective height of 25m. Further changes in 2019 broadened the range of buildings, up to the same height, in which fire-protected timber construction systems can be used. The new Classes added schools, retail premises, hospitals and aged care facilities to the previously approved categories.
It’s in these newly available building classes that developers, designers and builders are looking for more than the packs of timber or pre-framed components they would use to build a traditional house of or a lightly-framed system. They are looking for the safety, economy, speed and convenience of fully prefabricated elements.
This is creating a flow-on effect with TAFE and universities becoming more engaged with education needs for prefabrication in the construction sector.
“Using concrete, you effectively have to build the full building on site and there are construction workers who are skilled in doing that; it’s a very established and mature market,” says Dr Alastair Woodard, a timber engineer and WoodSolutions education consultant.
“With prefab timber buildings, the time onsite is more about assembly than construction. And assembly is a different skillset, more like that of an automotive worker or cabinetmaker, someone who is more skilled in understanding how elements fit together rather than actually physically building them.” Dr Alastair Woodard, timber engineer and WoodSolutions education consultant.
Building with mid-rise timber, whether traditional stick framing or new mass timber, is in practice a system, he says.
“It’s not just the timber; it’s also the fire-rated plaster, the acoustic elements and other parts that all make the system function effectively. The project managers and the people working onsite need to understand the whole system so they install it correctly to a high level of quality.”
Responding to a request from the Victorian Government for submissions to develop courses teaching prefabrication skills, Box Hill Institute of TAFE has secured the development of two courses focussing on timber.
The first course is the Diploma of Project Management for Prefabricated Building Systems in timber. It’s designed to give onsite project managers and supervisors the knowledge and skills to ensure that that a prefabricated timber building is assembled as it’s been specified.
The second course is the Onsite Installation of Prefabricated Building Systems (Timber) for the onsite workers who are assembling the buildings. Its aim is to ensure that they have the skills and understanding to undertake this type of mid-rise work to the required standards.
“Box Hill Institute of TAFE are currently designing and writing the courses, with input from an industry steering committee to advise them on topics for core subjects and electives.”
The new courses will be delivered by Box Hill in the second half of 2019, and from 2020, both will become national courses, which means any TAFE in Australia can use the course materials and deliver them to their students.
For readers interested in discovering more about working with wood and mid-rise timber construction, WoodSolutions Campus (woodsolutions.com.au/campus) offers free, self-paced online training modules.■
Dr Alastair Woodard, timber engineer and WoodSolutions education consultant.