I know what you’re thinking, we already have one. For the past ten years, maybe longer, we have all commentated on the fact there is very little youth and new talent coming into the industry, with many more leaving it. That situation hasn’t changed. We have for the past decade just about managed the situation, although it gradually gets worse as each year passes.

This time around is different. We have been lucky enough to be blessed with very high consumer demand. But as we are all very quickly finding out, an industry that has been long understaffed and overworked is now struggling to keep pace.

Acute crisis

We know the issue we have, especially at installer level. A lack of talent and youth means the workforce is ageing, people are retiring, and there isn’t enough new blood coming in to replace that which is leaving. The same can be said across most of the supply chain in fenestration, not just solely installers.

But it is perhaps where the continued pressures of high demand are going to create an acute crisis from one which we have been having to manage for a while anyway. It was a point raised on a business show in the US, where they too are experiencing a labour shortage in areas such as construction and renovations. Over there, like here, there has been a very strong bounceback in those specific areas, but many are now finding themselves short on people to get the work done.

This is a scenario I can see for us here. Installers are drowning in work, which is great, but lead times are extending to lengths we have never seen before and companies, quite rightly, are looking to hire more installers to reduce the lead times as best they can, manage the workload and bring in the extra work without the stress.

The problem is, there’s very little spare labour to go around. We aren’t getting the feed of young people and new talent that we should, and haven’t been for years. And now we find ourselves in a position where we desperately need them, and we have a tiny talent pool from which to delve.

You can see it on the fitter forums on Facebook and occasionally on Twitter, posts from companies desperately looking to take on more workers to facilitate growth and reduce the workload on other teams. You used to see these types of posts once in a while on the forums, but now they are numerous and daily. Definitely more frequent than before. But you do wonder, with a sector that is drowning in work, it’s not likely that there are going to be that many spare installers knocking about looking for work. I suspect most are already in work, with lots to come. Whilst companies might want more fitters, they may not find them.

This is the pinch point. Endless work, but not enough people to keep it manageable. So, what do we do?

Invest in youth, now

A response to a tweet of mine from the day before sums up what needs to happen perfectly:

We’re not going to get the people we need overnight. It’s a simple fact. We have too much work and not enough spare talent to recruit to be able to scale up. So lead times are going to get longer and we’re just going to have to live with that for the time being.

But whilst we’re doing that, the entire industry, right now, needs to be backing apprenticeships and other training avenues to attract as many young people and new talent to the sector as possible. This isn’t a solution for right now. This is a solution for years down the line. To prevent the situation we find ourselves in now where we cannot cope with the demand levels as they are.

We have long talked about the need to do this, but for the most part, a large section of the sector hasn’t committed to the cause, even though we know it’s the right thing to do. Well, now we have a very serious and pressing need to get this going in a big and meaningful way. If demand is going to stay at these levels for longer than we predict, we’re going to need to be prepared. The supply chain cannot cope as it is. If business levels increase further I genuinely fear for some parts of the chain. Installers won’t be able to afford to allow lead times to extend exponentially for long periods of time. We already have some installers booking work into September.

The work to allow our industry to grow and scale-up needs to be done now. Plant the seeds, watch them grow, then reap the rewards in a few years time by ushering in a new generation of talent and build better companies far more equipped to grow strongly, securely, and with less pressure up and down the supply chain.

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