I was shown an advert from a Facebook forum by a friend of mine the other night. It was advertising a fitter’s position at a company. The wage was £50,000 per year, with van and labourer supplied.

That’s a hell of a generous deal and perhaps signals an effort to obtain a new fitter no matter the costs. Such is the lack of available talented tradespeople.

So that got me to thinking, how much would you be prepared to pay your fitters?

Rising wages

Even in the wealthier south of the country, fifty grand a year, with van and labourer supplied is a very generous offer. It’s not one I have seen often, but perhaps it is a sign that the company putting forward that offer is in an acute need to find the skilled people they need.

Perhaps it is a sign of changing times. We all know that along with material price inflation, wage inflation has been going up as well. In an effort to attract the best people, businesses have been putting up wages over the last couple of years to tempt installers away from their current employers.

This is a double-edged sword. It’s good news if you’re a talented installer in fenestration as you know your skills are very much in demand and you have a certain amount of bargaining power when it comes to negotiating what you’re going to be paid. But the other side to that sword is the company paying the higher wages will have to pass those higher rates on to consumers to help cover their costs, which only pushes up retail prices to homeowners. We’re in a death spiral when it comes to prices and attracting the right talent.

Raising wages to attract the right people is a pretty powerful tool. A rising tide lifts all ships, as the saying goes, which means general levels of pay across the board begin to go up. This feeds into general inflation. But what is happening is rather than the sector introducing a new wave of thousands of new recruits into the industry, we’re all pinching from each other.

The same people are simply being recycled across the sector, going where the money or perks are a bit better each time. We’re not solving the problem, we’re putting a sticking plaster on the problem each time. And each year the shortage becomes worse and wages are spiralling faster and faster to persuade installers to move.

No other options

I am afraid to say that the above does seem the only immediate option for installers who are in desperate need to get hold of the right people. It’s not ideal, as it costs the company a lot more, which ultimately the client pays for. But for many, it’s the only option.

Let’s face it, whilst there is great support for apprenticeships across the board, they have failed to plug the gap. For a decade our industry has been looking towards apprenticeships to help solve the problem. For a decade the Government has tried various schemes and trials to try and fill the gap. Yet, the problem gets worse. Only last week it was reported that the construction sector as a whole in the UK needed another 250,000 workers by 2026. That’s less than four years away, and we have to be frank, there’s not a hope in hell we’ll find that vast number of people in less than four years.

What we are looking at is the end result of various Governments, both red and blue, making concerted efforts to funnel as many kids through university as possible, with trades and manual jobs being shoved to the side. For the last three decades, our school leavers have been taught to look down at trade jobs and aspire to earn a degree instead.

How bizarre then that we now find ourselves in a position where bricklayers and plasterers are earning much more than many are with a degree up their sleeves.

What did we expect to happen? Year after year we tell kids that University is the only way to go, and then suddenly, we’re surprised and frustrated that we don’t have enough of the right people to build all the things we need!

I’m afraid that until the education system from the very start begins to teach kids that there is great value in trades jobs, like fenestration installation, like building, like engineering, like plastering and plumbing, then we will only find that the situation we now find ourselves in will get worse.

And it has to start at 10 or 11 years of age. By the time kids get to 16, they’ll have already been told that only University provides the golden gates to life. Schools need to be providing a wide variety of options for kids so they can choose avenues that suit them best. We all know that in every class there are those that are academically gifted and those that are practically gifted. Schools and colleges simply need to provide the apparatus to let kids excel in their own choices, rather than being indoctrinated.

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