Whilst we all seem to be acutely aware of the sharp skills shortage we have in our industry, I’m not sure anyone has yet had a stab at trying to predict how bad the picture is in numbers. So I’m going to give it a go with this post, and see how dire the scenario is.
This post has been written in response to a meeting I attended on Wednesday 20th December with a group of people from across the industry to discuss the matter of the skills shortage. There will be more about that in early 2018.
For this post, I am working on a worst case scenario basis. So if the end result in the years to come is any better than the ideas I explore here, then happy days!
I’m going to look at this front an installer perspective. According to the 2017 Insight Data industry report, there are 13,281 installers. I think it’s a fairly safe bet that at least two thirds of installation companies would have at least one fitting crew that could be classed as “senior”. A crew, or a lead fitter that has been doing it for a great deal of their working life.
For the sake of simpler numbers, lets make two thirds of 13,281 an easy 9000. Lets assume that those 9k of installers have a senior installer that will be looking to retire or step away from the industry within the next five to ten years. That would be an immediate loss of 9000 skilled workers.
But that’s not the true figure. These senior installers will work in a crew, with at least one extra person. Some of the time, when the head of the crew stops, the other person they are working with stops too. Not all the time, but some. So, I think a fairly prediction would be that a third of the 9000 that would leave would also drag along 3000 other co-workers with them. I feel like I’m being conservative here. If many of those co-workers are apprentices, labourers or similar, it can really derail them and their work. 3000 could be an underestimate.
So, add your two figures together and that is 12,000. 12,000 skilled installers could leave our industry in the next five to ten years. How many new people are entering the industry in comparison? Well, according to figures I have seen, you’re looking at a few hundred per year at best. Lets say around 500 on the installations side as an average. That’s woefully low. And those figures drop even further when you look at areas such as surveyors and specialised installers.
Put simply, we are haemorrhaging talent every year, and we’re using a needle to plug the hole. What’s worse is that we’re only looking at installers here. What happens when you take into account other areas, such as fabrication, systems companies, the glass industry etc. From the figures I have been shown privately, the news is just as grim.
It is perfectly possible that within the next decade we’re going to lose tens upon tens of thousands of skilled people across all parts of our industry, at a time where diversification and evolution of our products demands that we increase those numbers dramatically.
Adapt and work harder
There are a number of things going on in the background in the industry which in the coming months aims to shape a new approach to attracting new youth and talent to our sector. But that is going to be a longer term tactic. The last couple of decades has seen the education system funnel as many kids through the University system that it has completely ignored trades and construction, and this is the end result. It is going to take just as many years to bring a balance back to that.
The skills crisis is here now, it gets worse every year and there is nothing even close to plugging the drain of skilled talent. So whilst we debate with ourselves about to solve the problem, I’m afraid that there is very little left to do than to adapt as companies within our industry and work harder.
I understand that this probably doesn’t sound all that appealing. But until there is a huge generational and social shift back towards the importance of trades and construction, we’re going to have to get used to working with fewer and fewer skilled people. Instead, we’re all going to have to analyse our long term plans and goals, taking the skills shortage into account, adapt them, and come up with revised plans on how to get to that same end goal.
Ultimately, which this will probably mean is that those that are left propping up the sector are going to have to worker harder, longer and in many other varied fields. There’s not a chance that we’re going to be attracting tens of thousands of new people to our industry any time soon. So it’s going to be down to us to change and evolve to get used to this new environment.
So, stock up on the coffee, keep the stress ball to hand. If you think you put a shift in now, this is probably just the start.
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