It is said that no one ever intends to work in the fenestration industry. Everyone you speak to says that they fell into it rather than aspired to be in it. Whilst that is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed, especially against a backdrop of a skills and youth gap, I thought it would be interesting to tell you my story about how I ended up in the fenestration sector.
How I landed in fenestration
No one at 16 is ever going to tell you they want to work in windows and doors. I didn’t either. As I said, we need to change that, but that is a subject to tackle in another post. But at 16, I was contemplating my choices for the next few years.
I was in Sixth Form and very uninspired. We were brainwashed, frankly, the year before to believe that the route to a successful life was through Sixth Form and then University and that was really the only choice we should be considering. We had a range of speakers from different Universities come to talk to us to reinforce that message. So we all signed on to Sixth Form on the back of a ton of promises.
A few months in and I knew that this was not the route for me. I actually had the grades to get into University if I wanted to. But further education was not stimulating me anywhere near enough to remain interested in doing it. I was eager to start learning about the real world. How it all worked. How I could start earning money. I was 17 during my first year in A-Levels so was learning to drive. It was that prospect of freedom in my own car and the potential of building something for myself that was way more attractive to me than dissecting 25 different meanings of a single sentence in a 200-year-old book.
At the time, our family had recently taken over the family-run window and door installation business that my Dad had worked at for 9 years previous to that. Still, the idea of working in windows wasn’t something at the forefront of my mind. But as the day of my driving test grew closer, and the more our family settled into our new roles as owners, the idea of working in the family business full time was becoming more appealing.
When I turned 16 I actually began to work at our company one day a week, on a Saturday, mainly to learn how to deal with customers, learn how to deal with people over the phone, admin roles etc. Regular office stuff that would be useful for when it came to working at a job full time. It was good experience and certainly set me up for working life.
Then I passed my driving test at the first attempt. And then I told my Sixth Form college that I wanted to leave at the end of my first year and go into work. I told them that our family now had a business in the world of fenestration (I didn’t use that term) and that I wanted to pursue that. And this is where I have a problem with the education system. Rather than try to understand my choice and help me, they shunned me for the rest of the year, paid no attention at all, derided my choice and told me that I was making a mistake. Turns out I made the best decision. And when I look at my age group and look at where I am in life, what I have achieved, I wouldn’t change anything.
Luck played a part in me falling into this industry. Had our family not come to own our installations company I most likely would not have got into this industry. I was fortunate enough to have had that opportunity come quite easily to me, and I certainly wasn’t pushed into it either. I entered from my own free will.
I have sold residential fenestration to the general public for 16 years and it has been the best education of my life. I have learned how to run a business. Learned a craft. Been taught life skills, financial know-how. Something I wasn’t getting at school. I have worked damned hard to get to where I am today and it is down to the chances and opportunities this sector has given me.
From that opening 16 years ago, not only have I forged a successful sales career, but I have been able to found myself other avenues in this sector. DGB is a unique opinion and analysis-based platform and one of the most followed industry media sites and continues to grow. The National Fenestration Awards I set up thanks to DGB and remains the only fenestration awards platform that is inclusive to everyone that works in this sector and where the results are 100% determined by those who take part. And now we have FENEX, the industry-disrupting virtual expo platform that continues to go from strength to strength. All proof that hard work and good ideas can take root in this sector. It’s certainly not easy, and there are always barriers to overcome, but the rewards make it worth it.
How to address the skills gap
This question is going to take more than a few paragraphs to explain and explore how to correct the skills gap. But the crux of the matter is that we need more people, especially young people, who are willing to learn a craft and skill, and to attract them to our sector.
It’s going to need a multi-pronged approach and it’s going to need actions rather than words. Our industry does a rather good job at talking a lot but doing very little. It’s time to put the pledges and promises into action.
That means getting into schools and colleges and talking to school-leavers, and younger, about our industry, what its really like, and the career prospects for those willing to put the work in.
It means installers and fabricators actually taking on apprentices from their local colleges and being prepared to teach and inspire the next generation than is going to come in and replace us.
It means the industry pulling together as one, putting the petty politics and rivalries aside to work together so that the public and even government can hear us better, see us better, respect us better, and perhaps get some help in showing our sector in a brighter light. I don’t hold much hope out on this one unfortunately, given the narrow-mindedness of our sector.
Actions are needed. And that’s one thing we’re doing at FENEX, where we have just announced we’ll be holding a recruitment drive at the main event in September, where we’re aiming to find fantastic new people to fill roles that are vacant in the sector. More details about that will be announced soon.
We need to turn things on their head. We need to stop people “falling” into this industry and get people to “want” to be in this industry. It’s going to take time, ideas and actions. But it has to start now, because the record demand we’re all battling through at the moment has only shown in a more acute light how low on talent and workers we really are.
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