For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you will have seen that I have started a new poll. For this one, I want to know if the industry truly believes if we are able to turn around the skills and youth crisis.

With the FIT Show coming up in a couple of weeks, this might give us an indication as to whether we have the backbone to actually do something about it.

The poll

Running for a week until next Tuesday evening, this was the question I have asked on Twitter:

The early votes show some positivity from the industry that they believe it isn’t too late to turn the crisis around.

This poll runs for a week so in seven days time we’ll have a more accurate picture as to whether the industry thinks we can turn this around.

To be frank, I don’t expect many people to say no to this. This isn’t a question which requires veiled responses in the way a question asking if your business is busy would command. I expect much of the industry will approach this type of question in a positive vein, hoping that the industry can indeed find a way to bring in a new generation of talent.

Hope alone however isn’t going to solve much. It’s going to take decisions, money, time and faith in a younger generation from the old guard.

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How are we finding the new talent?

As an industry we are very good at talking to ourselves. When it comes to the general public we’re utterly dismal. The only bits of communication from our industry are when installers advertise on TV and online trying to generate sales leads. I cannot think of anything tangible which has tried to reach out to the public in a way which aims to simply educate the public on our industry and what we actually do.

So, when we say to ourselves what are we going to about the skills gap, we have to look at how we are going to reach out to a new generation.

As an industry, what are we doing on the ground to reach out to young and new people? What are the methods we are using to get in front of the right faces? It’s all well and good saying firmly and loudly that we have to do something, but the walk has to be walked, and done in the right way.

For me, this is going to take groups of companies from across all parts of the supply chain to agree to work together as a collective and form deals with colleges, sixth forms and universities who will allow them to come in and talk to anyone between the ages of 14-21. There’s no point in talking to 16 year olds as many will have already been pushed down the university route by their schools and will be a hard persuasion. At 14 years of age young people are still deciding what is right for them in the future and what they enjoy. It is at this point our industry needs to be getting in front of them to show that a career in fenestration, across all parts of the supply chain is a worthy one.

But that’s just one part of it. There has to be an organised, well structured campaign from across industry. Getting into schools is one part. We have to put our industry online in the places young people go, which means social media, especially Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. This is where industry marketing companies come in. If they could work together to come up with a combined effort to reach out to young people with visual, short and to-the-point messaging from our industry, that could become pretty effective.

Then there are apprenticeships. The scheme Government has been trying to implement for a while now looks dead to me. They wanted to create 3m new apprenticeship places, but we’re not seeing even a sprinkle of that coming through. But apprenticeships, when executed properly, are still an effective way to employment. Our industry should be using this particular tool regardless of what Government is trying to do, even if it means funding it ourselves. And if we’re going to welcome tens of thousands of new people to the industry over the next few years, they’re going to need training.

Training centres have a huge part to play in this story. Lets say we do manage to create an influx of new talent, they’re going to need training, refining and teaching before they enter the market. We need strong training centres around the UK to be able to provide those facilities. No training centres and we’ll simply lose potential new candidates to the industry to other sectors.

Hopefully you understand the point I’m trying to make. If we’re going to turn this around, then it’s going to need a multi-point strategy and it’s going to take us all, and I mean all, to band together to make it happen. It’s going to mean people and companies working together who don’t necessarily get on with each other. It will mean striking partnerships with competitors and rivals.

If we manage to coalesce then perhaps we might, just might be able to turn things around. If we can’t do that, then I’m afraid little will change.

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