The installation leaky bucket

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By Mark Conacher, Director, Liberty Fitting Service Limited

I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s been a significant decline in skilled trade professionals for many years now.

This shortage is currently no more apparent than in kitchen and bathroom installation, where the need for young people to enter the industry is at a critical point. Across the UK there are currently a number of initiatives aimed at attracting new blood into the skilled trades, which includes kitchen and bathroom installation, with these initiatives seeing varying degrees of success. However, a recent report by the BiKBBI, stating that almost 60% of kbb installers would consider leaving the industry, has got to be a huge cause for concern.

You need to let that sit for a minute… SIXTY PERCENT!

For me, the first thought that enters my mind is not how will they be replaced but more about the WHY?

Why would they consider leaving the kbb industry?

Why would they leave an industry that many have worked in for years, one that can be a good living and a job for life if you are in any way half-decent.

Whilst trying to fix the lack of youth coming into the KBB industry, it is essential to understand the reasons behind why more than half of current installers are ready to move on to other things and perhaps from there we can tackle the root causes of the decline. After all, it’s no use bringing young people into an industry that is, in effect, a leaking bucket.

It is therefore vital that retailers engage with their current installers. Open up that conversation and find out the real reasons for their disillusionment with the industry. Understanding the problems from the installer’s or tradesman’s point of view is critical to stopping good fitters from leaving the industry, and in turn the solutions should hopefully encourage more people to join.

I completely agree that we need more youth and one of the significant challenges facing the installation industry is the lack of interest in taking on apprentices. Installers will say they don’t want to take on an apprentice because there’s too much red tape and that it’s not straightforward. We all know that’s no longer true, with many organisations willing to hold your hand all the way through the process.

So, what’s the real problem? We must get answers.

In my opinion, this is first and foremost a sales problem, with the apprentice being the product and the tradesman being the customer. Tradespeople and installers need to be sold on the idea of taking on apprentices, and I believe the focus of the marketing of apprenticeships needs to be targeted from the tradesman’s point of view.

Telling a customer that they need to buy a new kitchen because it will help the future of the kbb industry wouldn’t work. Why?

Because no one cares.

If you are a kitchen salesman or designer, for a successful sale you absolutely need to understand the customers current pain points. Are they unhappy?

What problems are they having? Why do they need a new kitchen? What difficulties could a new kitchen solve?

If we understand the problems and the pain points from the installers point of view, we can then start looking at the ways in which an apprentice could perhaps alleviate some of those issues and apprenticeships would then have a chance at being seen a positive rather than just another problem the fitter doesn’t need.

Apprenticeships offer the opportunity for tradespeople to pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation of workers, ensuring the industry’s sustainability.

I don’t know of any installer that wouldn’t be proud to give back, but the reality is, in an industry made up predominantly of sole traders what they don’t want is to be training their replacement or their competition when they still have ten or fifteen years till retirement. This to me is a very real problem and one that must be addressed if we are serious about getting a sizable number of new installers into the industry.

Back in the day, when construction was made up of companies with multiple employees, this was less of an issue. Since the beginning of self-employment, these little micro businesses have been managed very differently and self-preservation is the number one priority, especially when most are continually run only a month or so away from going bust.

Could you offer your current installer(s) more security?

If the installer has some kind of guarantee that their current work volume isn’t under any threat, could this be the key to unlocking the apprentice numbers that the industry desperately needs.

Could you help your current installer to grow their business?

There is a little bit of a stigma about multi team businesses and retailers are sometimes shy of the “all eggs in one basket” scenario. But loyalty runs both ways. I have run a multi-team company for many years now and the relationship with the companies I’ve worked alongside has always been strong because the loyalty is running in both directions.

Lastly, I believe that many of the more experienced installers can feel a little trapped in their roles, with no clear path for the future and, for me, this can add to the frustration and disillusionment they feel. Consideration could perhaps be given to providing opportunities for installers to develop their own skills and advance their own careers. If they have the skills and desire to do so, having the opportunity to advance to management roles within the companies they have worked alongside, could maybe provide a sense of purpose and direction for some, ensuring that they remain engaged, committed to the industry and more willing to train others for the future.

There is without doubt a pressing need for more young people to see trades which includes kitchen and bathroom installation as a much sought-after career but let’s not forget we need to engage and embrace the 60% that are ready to walk. We must address the drip, drip, drip of the leaky bucket and help give the industry the very best chance of a solid foundation to build upon.

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