Ask anyone in glass and glazing what they see as the biggest long-term challenge facing the industry, and they’re likely to say the skills shortage. When the government announced plans to double the housing budget and build 400,000 new homes late last year, the trade’s reaction was very revealing – rather than immediately jumping for joy, many installers, fabricators and other industry professionals responded with variations on the theme of “that’s all very well, but where are the people that are going to build them?”
Finding an effective way to combat the skills shortage
Over the past twelve months, a deluge of reports and studies have argued the skills shortage is something we all need to be taking seriously. According to the Hays Global Skills Index 2015, the construction skills shortage has worsened for the fourth year in a row. A survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Engineers claims construction is gripped by the worst skills crisis since 1998 – while the NSCC State of Trade Survey found 47% of specialist contractors experiencing greater difficulty sourcing skilled labour in 2015 than in recent years.
It’s news made all the more disturbing by Construction Industry Training Board estimates that we need 44,690 new entrants just to sustain the industry, a figure which dwarfs the 7,280 who completed their apprenticeship training in 2013. Apprenticeship numbers have soared by 57% since 2010 – but apprenticeship opportunities in construction have fallen from 20,000 in 2006 to 15,510 today.
For those of us in the glazing industry, it’s a huge problem. In all other respects, we’re in a good place at the moment – the products are better than ever, and business is good, fuelled by steady demand at the higher end of the market. Each new year seems to bring more innovations that let us make higher quality products in less time, and open up fresh ways to colour, finish and personalise products for consumers who’ve come to love all things bespoke. But growth, for ourselves as individual companies, and for the sector as a whole, will be massively constrained if we don’t get more talented young people coming in to the industry.
A problem to be dealt with by both government and industry installers
Government obviously has a significant role to play in resolving this issue – but we haven’t got the luxury of sitting around and waiting for politicians to start taking an interest. What we can do is meet the challenge head-on as a sector – using our resources to begin training the fabricators and installers of the future, not just to benefit our individual businesses, but the industry as a whole.
That’s why, at Warwick North West, we’ve just taken on four new apprentices. Luke, Jack, Ryan and Gerard have been put to work in our Liverpool factory, and are now learning the trade under the watchful eye of our experienced fabricators. At the beginning of 2015, there were still 943,000 NEETs – 16-24-year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training – in England and Wales, many of them talented, enthusiastic young people dying for a route into skilled employment.
These are exactly the kind of people we need to be attracting into glass and glazing, and apprenticeships provide a mutually beneficial way of doing that – young people get on-the-job training, while we get their energy, enthusiasm and fresh thinking.
A business supporting various individuals
We’ve also just signed up the Armed Forces Covenant. Every year, thousands of skilled, dedicated, passionate people leave the armed forces for civilian life, and many sadly struggle to find secure employment. As a business, we want to support those individuals, and are committed to doing everything we can to help them secure jobs at Warwick North West.
Of course, apprenticeships and other employment schemes are only part of the solution – it’s clear that schools don’t do enough to promote vocational skills, and that in society more generally we’re still dealing with the stereotype that manual careers somehow aren’t fit for the best and brightest students. But they do offer a way in which businesses like ours can step up to the plate and make a solid, lasting contribution to the future of the industry.
For more information you can contact us online or call 0151 933 3030.