In the past decade two Governments, the coalition and this current Conservative Government, have tried to launch schemes that intended to encourage homeowners to take out loans and grants to insulate and retrofit their homes.
Both failed. They failed for a number of reasons, all very similar to each other. The most recent version of this scheme, the Green Homes Grant, was axed after a matter of months.
There remain whispers that the Government is still intent on finding another scheme to take its place. Sadly, this will be utterly pointless until another pressing issue is resolved, and that is the labour shortage.
Sort the labour shortage first
One of the many reasons why both of these retrofit schemes failed is that participating in them, be it an installer of windows and doors, or a consumer was just far too complicated.
The issue this time around with the Green Homes Grant was there was very little real-world incentive for UK fenestration to take part. We were operating in a very high demand part of the economy so didn’t need any new business that came from it. Signing up was very hard. And labour was already short and is now worse.
The skills and labour shortage has been around UK fenestration for well over a decade now. There are more people leaving the profession than there are joining it. There is a similar situation across other trades within construction.
Yet, the Government is intent on building at least 300,000 new homes per year, retrofitting tens of millions of homes with energy efficiency measures and reaching net-zero as quickly as possible. All admirable aims. Also all utterly pointless until we sort out the one thing that is holding back nearly every supply chain in the UK at the moment, and that is a shortage of labour.
None of the above is even remotely possible until we get the right number of people working. It really is as simple as that. So to even be considering a third scheme to encourage people to insulate their homes is ludicrous at this point.
The UK fenestration is all too acutely aware of this problem. This is something we have been talking to ourselves about for well over ten years, but little action has been taken. If we’re going to wait for the Government to fix it, we’ll be waiting a very long time.
Change in education
As someone put it to me on Twitter today, all of the predicted problems are now coming home to roost. We know for at least three decades, governments of all colours have been telling school kids their futures lie solely at University. This is wrong. And decades later we are seeing the results of the neglect shown towards trades.
We are short on every key trade this country needs to build what we have to build. A recent report said that in construction alone we needed over 200,000 new workers. Whilst we are short by such huge numbers we’re never going to get close to hitting any of our self-imposed targets.
But any changes have to come from the education sector. Schools have to start talking to kids in a meaningful way about their options and not brainwash them all into thinking University is the only path they should consider.
Schools and colleges need to start giving kids who are at an age where they need to start thinking about a career a balanced view of the world. Showing them that there are good ways to a great living down other paths, such as trades, including fenestration, and that these are just as important as any other route of life. And certainly not to be looked down upon.
Do I think that a wholesale change is going to happen at the education level? No. Until financial incentives are reduced or removed for colleges and sixth form centres with regards to how many they send to University, that won’t change. Money is too powerful an influence.
So the hard truth is this: things are going to get worse before they get better. Labour and skills shortages are going to continue for a long time and will only put more pressure on supply chains. If UK fenestration specifically wants to change this, then it is going to have to move beyond words and meaningless PR and collaborate together, across supply chains, often with competitors and those who don’t usually work together. This is going to require a collective effort the likes of which we have not seen.
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