For Pete’s sake, give them a break!

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By BiKBBI CEO, Damian Walters:

Me droning on about skills gaps is a bit like Sir David Attenborough warning of an environmental catastrophe – it feels like the consequences of today may be something another generation has to deal with some time in the future and perhaps not (selfishly) urgent.

But just like Attenborough and global warming, our skills gap is starting to bite right now and we should be very concerned about what’s happening. We’re in trouble.

Pent-up demand from a global pandemic and the subsequent lockdown is, without doubt, a contributory factor to the current surge in home improvement demand; But the reality is that the skills gap is what’s really behind these elongated lead times and it’s something that will soon become the new norm – or worse still if we do nothing about it.

Ordinarily, this time of year, you’ll be waiting 6-8 weeks for an installation – and at peak times (the first quarter of any year), these waiting times routinely rise to 12 weeks.

However, in November 2020, for the first time we saw 12 week lead times creep in pre-Christmas and many retailers now are reporting lead times lurching into September – a staggering 16-20 weeks from now!

Installation Managers across the land will be pressurised into “getting more installers”, but the fact is that the lesser spotted installer is becoming extinct. Those left, are booked solid. Their worth has doubled overnight and they can pick and choose where and who to work for – pretty much with an ability to name their price.

Now, you could crudely up the prices you pay to them in an attempt to entice them in, but that’s only going one way… a race to the bottom.

Yes, installers reward needs to be reviewed, but in upping the prices to suit the installer (alone) you run the risk of pushing the customer to other (cheaper) options, which could cause real reputation damage to the industry, forcing your customers into the arms of the opposition – or worse still, cowboys… that’s not good for retailers, for professional installers or customers!

‘Getting more’ from your current supply chain is probably not an option either. They’ll only be drawing in unproven labour to assist their business, which increases risk and destroys brands. They’ll be trying to help you overcome the challenge, but the reality is that whilst they’re good installers, they may not be the best at managing accelerated growth, performance management and multi-site projects.

The fact is – there’s no quick win real answers. The skills gap is here, it’s biting and there’s nothing much we can do about it – other than to work bloody hard to reduce the future impact with initiatives like Apprenticeships.

So, for Pete’s sake… Don’t apply too much pressure on the installation businesses, the field managers or the installers… It’s impossible to get a litre of fine wine from a pint glass – and if you try, you might end up with a litre of home brew that gives you a lasting gut ache.

Be honest with your customers. Assure them that a professional installer is worth waiting for and ensure your offering stands out within a congested marketplace… customers are instinctively price driven – but just like cheap bin bags, the mess left behind by a pressurised installer isn’t pleasant!

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