A friend of mine over on Linkedin was voicing frustration that there was no specific industry choice for fenestration. We were being lumped in with the wider construction sector or “home and garden”. It’s a fair point. We’re a multi-billion pound industry that employs hundreds of thousands in this country.
As I was agreeing with him in a comment thread, it became clear to me that this is merely another symptom of the fact that our industry does not wield the influence or power it really should.
I often refer to this point in general conversation, but think about what we all do for a moment. The sector we work in, fenestration, is present in every single building on earth. Windows, doors, glass, hardware, locks, and smart locks, in every single residential, commercial and Government building. Our products are the barrier that keeps the bad guys out and the expensive heat in. Our products can change the appearance of any building. Our products can change how a person lives in their own home.
When you think about it in those true terms, you will realise how incredibly important our sector is. I am very passionate about our sector. I am passionate about design, about the potential our sector has and the direction it is going in at the moment. Not everyone is like me, I get it. Some will just see this as a job. But I hope that there are plenty of others that are as enthused about our sector as I am.
We are a five billion pound a year industry. Yet we should be far bigger than that. When we are integral to every building in the country we surely have to be bigger than that?
I fully believe that we have missed various opportunities to be bigger and better, and when I look at my time in this sector and study what has happened before I came to work in fenestration, those mistakes are down to us.
One major error stems back to when PVCu began to take over. As many who lived through the birth of that part of the sector have told me, it was very much the era of “stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap”. There were many more systems companies than there are today, and everyone was joining the bandwagon to try and make quick cash. If you watched the series White Gold, that was the end result. Sleaze, unprofessional practices and just a general gross vibe. What was presented to the industry was a new opportunity to sell what was then a premium product, something new and shiny that would grab the public’s attention, and do the job right. Instead, there was a race to the bottom and all the grubbiness that came with it.
The second error our industry continues to make is how it conducts itself and engages with the outside world and within. In my 17 years in this industry, I can quite safely say that some of the politics in this industry make the conduct in Parliament look unflinchingly professional.
It’s well known that the Government’s opinion of us is about as low as it can get. We’re an industry that is unable to unite around a single topic without being able to set aside self-interest and egos. The mess around the latest revisions to Building Regulations is a very good example of this. After almost two years of warnings, then at the last moment when we could not afford to keep our heads in the sand any longer, we sprung into disorganised action to oppose the changes. Imagine how that looks to Civil Servants in Government. It’s frankly pathetic.
We have a set of trade bodies that cannot coalesce around major issues for the benefit of the industry. Personalities often override progress. New people and new ideas are often treated as though they are a stranger walking into a “locals only” pub in the middle of nowhere. I have friends in other sectors that have left fenestration to work in other areas of the economy, and they tell me that we are decades behind other sectors and it’s primarily down to how we run our trade.
Good business decisions are being shunned due to the above. Progress is being held back because we do not treat this sector with the potential and professionalism it deserves. There are flashes of brilliance in some parts. There are individuals and companies scattered across the sector showing how it should be done. Demonstrating that we’re not “just windows and doors” but an integral part of the economy and vital to the wider construction sector. But it’s nowhere near widespread enough. We need some of the right people, younger people in positions of influence so that we can start to see real change within our sector and begin to move further forwards at a greater speed.
I often look at the American fenestration market and observe how they go about their work. How their companies communicate and operate. How their own trade associations work and engage with each other. How the people within it work and work with each other. If you want a good insight into the American market please go follow a chap called Andrew Haring. In short, they really know how to do it. It’s not just a job for many of them, it’s a career and a passion. Yes, it’s a bigger industry, but size is not an excuse for lower standards.
So long as ego, pride, petty politics and division remain in our sector, our progress will be held back significantly. Which for me is so frustrating. As I explained at the beginning, we are a sector that is so interconnected with other areas, and vital to literally every single building in this country, we should have far more influence and be a far larger sector than what we are right now. My passion for this career is what fuels my frustration. I can see what a future in this industry could look like if we did more of the right things. We could become a beacon for school leavers and all those looking to change jobs. A leading sector innovator. A huge driver of energy-efficient retrofitting initiatives to 30 million homes. An industry where the pay is amazing at all levels and people come to pour their passion into building a career.
Imagine if we became all of that. Linkedin would have to give us our own profile category then.
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