Our industry is already suffering from a skills shortage. Companies who have shrunk their workforce in order to survive the recession are now struggling as the work rapidly picks back up. Service has dropped. Quality has suffered. Mistakes are rife. This is a problem, and one that needs sorting sharpish. However the industry faces a more acute, long term problem that could devastate the industry and cause it some immense issues. That it a lack of youth.

No young blood

I spoke to a Greg Johnson today, MD of Warwick Sliders. Like me, he is 25 years old. He’s worked hard to become the MD of the company and at a quarter of a century old, that’s an impressive feat. Even more impressive when you consider that he’s the only other 25 year I think I have spoken to in a very long time. I told him it was nice to know there was a few of us out there! Barring Greg, I haven’t spoken to that many twenty year olds. And that is a worrying fact.

I go to my fair share of industry events throughout the year. Some big, some small. All however have one worrying characteristic: no young people. I see mostly people over 40 years of age. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I never see people younger than them ready to take their place. I never see young fitters being trained up. I don’t see any young surveyors. I don’t see many young people at all. Whenever I walk into a room at these gatherings I feel even younger than I look. There is simply no youth coming through in our industry and that really is going to be devastating.

Devastating is a strong word, but I truly believe the industry faces an impending crisis point. The current generation of business owners are approaching retirement age. Yet I see few family run businesses where their next of kin stand ready to take over. What happens then? Well two things. The owners sell up to investors or people from outside the business, which rarely ends well. Or, the business simply closes it’s doors, which is the saddest way to go after what I am sure would have been many years in the industry. Repeat that scenario up and down the industry and you can start to understand the scale of the problem.

Skills shortage to get worse

You think the current skills shortage is bad? Wait till the effects of a lack of youth starts to kick in, this will seem like a walk in the park. Lets look at a different scenario. Let’s image you’re a business owner about 5-10 years down the road and you’re doing well, but you need extra staff in order to grow and take on more work. You need a couple of qualified fitting teams, a qualified surveyor and a qualified service engineer for good measure. Your current surveyor is ready for retirement and the need for MTCs has put a lot of fitters off from fitting now. You can’t find anyone you need. Everyone is either taken or approaching retirement. Ideally you want someone young so you can hold on to them for a long time. But alas, there’s no one out there. So on you plod, struggling under the weight of the extra work. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if 5-10 years earlier there was a new batch of young guys and girls that started new careers in the industry? You might have been able to snap up a few of them.

A bit of a story there but you get the point I’m trying to make. Not only will some businesses have to close as they have no interested heirs to take over, but existing businesses intent on staying open will have an ever decreasing pot of qualified staff to choose from. It’s a problem that is starting to cripple some businesses now, and it will only get worse.

What is to blame?

Well for a start the cowboy image the industry has created for itself over the past 20 years has certainly not helped. It has served only to force parents to tell their kids that a career in double glazing isn’t a road they want to go down. You’re not going to want to join an industry where it’s known for crooks, cowboys, shoddy work and companies that don’t stick around past their guarantee.

We’re also to blame as it’s our fault as an industry that we’ve not done a good enough job of making the industry an attractive prospect. In reality, you can make some good money in our line of work. Quality, qualified installers make good money, as do surveyors and service engineers. Even us dodgy salesmen make a few quid here and there too! So despite the negativity and reputation, a fun, well paid career can be found in glazing. We really do need to communicate that somehow to the youth finishing their A-levels and show them that a world in glass can be rewarding, well paid and something worth having a go at.

Act now or pay later

Let me be clear though, the industry faces a tipping point, and I believe we’re very close to it. I think that within about 5 years the industry is going to face a crippling generation gap as current owners retire with no one left to take their place. Businesses will close and the industry will start to suffer from acute skills shortages much worse than what we’re seeing now.

We have to act now if we are to stop this.