iKBBI CEO issues stark industry warning…

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At its tenth anniversary reception, held at The Houses of Parliament last week, iKBBI CEO Damian Walters expressed his concern over a UK skills gap within the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom installation sector and said he feared an inevitable crisis as installer numbers are already failing to meet growing retail sales demands.

The reception event, attended by a number of high profile representatives, including consumer organisations Trading Standards, Which? and The Furniture Ombudsman, CEO Walters shared his concerns and said that the industry is not doing enough together to tackle the problem of attracting and retaining quality installers.

Damian said: “Without a nationally available KBB installation apprenticeship, the industry is missing out on a generation of young talent, who are already choosing other trades over KBB installation”.

Damian went onto say: “A combination of recent recessional times, a lack of training and no cohesive approach to tacking the subject will inevitably lead to a shortage of installers over the next few years – Something I’m unsure we’ll be able to avoid”.

Guest speaker Dean Weston, Chief Commercial Officer at Bathstore, mirrored the concern, by saying that installation numbers had doubled over recent years, yet installer recruitment “remained a challenge”. Dean said: “We’re fortunate enough to have taken the Bathstore model to Qatar, however it is a land without labour. This rich nation is willing and financially able to spend on luxury goods, yet there’s no workforce to meet the demand.” Dean went onto say: “I can see the UK following suit as my generation chose the dot-com revolution over bricks and mortar. Our partnership with The iKBBI is crucial, not only for our success, but also the success of the wider industry”.

Fellow guest speaker Katherine Newton, Installation Manager at John Lewis Partnership discussed how The iKBBI had supported their recent re-launch of their bathroom installation proposition, by saying: “The iKBBI supported the recruitment process enormously at every level – a very useful tool for our business as we focus on only working with the best installers in the marketplace”.

The iKBBI used the Parliamentary event to discuss it’s own strategy on tackling the skills gap issue, with CEO Walters using a farming analogy to describe the steps they’re taking to address the situation.

“Preparing the soil is where it starts” said Walters. “We’re already working with secondary schools and those years 9-11 who are at the stage of deciding upon their future. It’s crucial we get kids excited about the prospect of a career that can be both rewarding and really quite enjoyable”.

Damian continued: “We’ll then work on sowing the seeds and this is where our pioneering work with PROCAT [Prospects College of Advanced Technology] comes into its own. Developing a nationally available and relevant apprenticeship is crucial to the future success of the KBB industry and is something we all need to get behind.”

The iKBBI announced also launched their new iAcademy at the event, with Walters continuing the farming analogy by calling this phase “nurturing the crop”. Damian said: “As well as attracting new prospective young installers into the industry, we must also develop those time served professionals who already operate in the sector. The industry, products and legislation have changed enormously over the last 20 years and continue to do so. Our new online training portal, delivered in conjunction with CTSi [Chartered Trading Standards Institute] brings quality and affordable training to the industry, recognising the time constraints tradespeople face. Installers can learn online, gain relevant knowledge, a commercial edge over competitors and do so at their own pace”.

The iKBBI confirmed that the mighty brand and long term supporter of the institute Blum had pledged a three-year sponsorship of the iAcademy, which compliments their own ethos on installer training & development.

During the bumper reception for news, The iKBBI also confirmed a new and exciting relationship with UK charity Care after Combat – A charity dedicated to the support of military veterans and their families. Damian said: “This initiative will involve retraining a group of disciplined people, introducing them to the industry and opening up opportunities for them to retrain as KBB installers. Many industry leaders view Veterans as their number one choice for recruitment, so why shouldn’t we”.

To conclude the farming analogy, The iKBBI also unveiled its “harvest” initiative. The new iKBBI Skills Bank will be an online portal for installers and those working within the KBB industry to register their interest in working within the industry. The database of installers, already home to over 1,000 installers looking for new installing opportunities within the retail sector, “will be exclusively available to iKBBI Installation Standards Partners” said Damian.

Damian concluded by thanking it’s members, partners, sponsors and supporters and said: “We should all be viewing installation as a top priority. Whether you’re a manufacturer, supplier, distributor, retailer or sales person, professional installation is crucial to the future success of our industry. We should all pull together and ensure that we’re tackling the problem as a collective, so invite you all to collaborate.”

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