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Skills shortage the next problem to face

While demand in fenestration shows no signs of stopping, the skills shortage is the biggest long-term problem the industry is set to face. Here, CDW Systems’ group Chairman Jeremy Phillips discusses the problem, and how the industry can bridge the skills gap.

According to the last ONS census in 2011, one in every five UK-born construction workers were aged over 55. That means that this year they will have reached retirement age.

Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem, as the next generation would be already coming through. But as we know, that is not the case. On average, 40% of key trades are experiencing a skills shortage (according to the Federation of Master Builders), and when those people retire, the same percentage of young people are not entering these professions.

Despite the challenging last 12-18 months, the skills shortage will be the biggest challenge glass and glazing will face. And with Brexit and the pandemic exasperating the situation, the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Sustaining skills

The Manufacturing Institute puts the total of new recruits that construction will need by 2030 at around 3.5 million. That number has never seemed more far away as Brexit has shut the door on the skilled European workers on which UK construction relies upon.

A third of construction workers in the UK are migrant workers, according to a report by the Construction Industry Training Board, and it is estimated that almost three-quarters of all non-UK construction workers are under the age of 45.

With the EU making up a considerable proportion of the UK’s manufacturing and construction workforce, and freedom of movement removed, the skills shortage could get worse.

For far too long, we’ve not focused anywhere near enough on recruiting and training the next generation of glazing professionals – and every year, more and more of the skilled employees we do have are leaving.

And with unprecedented demand meaning businesses across the whole supply chain have had to strengthen their operations to cope, finding the right people has been increasingly tough as a result.

Replenishing the industry

The lifeblood of any industry can only be sustained by replenishing it with young people. New blood allows an industry to grow, push boundaries and come up with fresh ideas. And our industry is no different.

However, a YouGov survey shows that just 3% of people aged 18 to 24 are searching for jobs in the construction industry, while another recent study reported that 14-19 -year-olds scored the industry just 4/10 for appeal and attractiveness.

Enticing young people into the sector has never been more challenging. One of the main problems is that young people see the industry through a very narrow window – namely that low paid, ‘outdoorsy’ and for people who don’t go to college.

We need more people, especially young people, who are willing to learn a craft and skill, and to attract them to our sector. Somewhere along the line our potential employees are persuaded to do something else, and maybe we need to look at the education system. Perhaps teachers and parents are dismissive of the industry? This needs to change or the absence of new blood coming through will continue.

Changing perceptions

It’s fair to say that as an industry our PR could be better, and these perceptions need to change. Ours is a multi-billion-pound industry and we need to get the message out to young people and their parents that this is a highly-skilled and highly-paid industry that offers amazing opportunities for personal development and a lifetime career, particularly with the Government’s pledge to build our way to economic recovery.

That means getting into schools and colleges and talking to school-leavers, and younger, about our industry, and finding different approaches to recruitment. It also means companies throughout our sector taking on young apprentices and being prepared to teach and inspire.

Of course, it’s important to focus on staff retention too. Creating a culture that encourages people to stay and investing in training for existing staff should run alongside bringing in the next generation

One of the things the glass and glazing industry has been historically good at is tacking challenges head-on such as sustainability, introducing new products and improving product efficiency. The skills shortage will be the biggest challenge yet.

It’s time to stop people “falling” into this industry and get people to “want” to be in it.

Established in 1992, CDW Systems is one of the UK’s longest running aluminium specialists, and its expertise and extensive market knowledge has seen it grow into one of the most well-respected specialists in the trade supply of high-quality aluminium window, door, and curtain wall products to installers across the UK. Operating out of a 13,000ft² factory premises in Gloucester, CDW Systems is part of the East Manor Group.

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