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Bridging the Skills Gap 

07/02/2024

Bridging the Skills Gap

UK homeowners are continuing to invest in their homes and the KBB sector is reporting strong growth. But as demand soars, the industry is facing a challenge when it comes to its workforce, with a significant shortfall of proficient, skilled people entering the industry to meet existing demand, as well as to prepare for future growth opportunities.

The British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom installation (BiKBBI) predicts that this will have a detrimental impact on the industry if the skills gap isn’t plugged. We asked Damian Walters, Chief Executive of BiKBBI to share his insights.

What are the key factors contributing to the skills shortage in the kitchens & bathrooms industry?
Ultimately it’s a global lack of investment in vocational learning, spanning three decades. With the dot.com revolution in the 90’s, quite simply vocational careers became ‘unfashionable’! What has exposed the problem (but is not the cause) includes a mixture of both BREXIT (affecting the movement of European labour) and COVID (which spiked demand).

What impact do skills shortages have on businesses in terms of profitability and productivity?
Our industry is reliant on skilled trades to install the products we innovate, manufacture, design and sell. Quite frankly, if there’s no one there to fit the product, how can we hope to attract consumer spend? Longer lead times delay the processing of balances (at best), but at worst put off the modern consumer, who typically isn’t prepared to wait… we all run the risk of them spending elsewhere in other industries.

Furthermore, where there’s a skills gap, we create opportunity. Where there’s opportunity, there’s usually opportunists. In our case, these opportunists run the risk of ruining our industry reputation, further damaging our chances of profitability.

What strategies are companies employing to address skills shortages in their workforce?
Dare I say, not enough. The industry needs to wake up to the fact that we’re midst a crisis and the only people with any chances of addressing that, is us(!) Businesses need to think differently about how they approach the situation of installation. Who will be fitting their products in 10 years… at the moment and in all honesty, I can’t answer that. I do know that doing nothing will not change the situation.

How can schools/further education, associations and businesses collaborate to bridge the skills gap?
Schools, colleges and interest from students is not the problem. The problem is that our industry is not creating the opportunities for them. Thankfully, schools are waking up to the idea that academic pathways aren’t for everyone and that vocational learning, via Apprenticeships and the new T-Levels are viable and attractive propositions for anyone looking to achieve a rewarding career.  

What role do government policies play in reducing the skills shortages?
I think the government are doing quite a bit to be honest. They have supported the new Fitted Furniture Installer Apprenticeship, signed off on the qualification and offer up to 100% funding for learning. So, to be fair, they’re not the problem (as an industry, we are). However, I do think that how industries can spend the Apprenticeship Levy needs reform. Micro SME’s, who dominate the KBB installation industry are predominately tiny businesses, who can’t access Levy funding to support with things like wages for apprentices. So, whilst government is covering the majority of training, we’re reliant on the SME employer to not only share their knowledge and pass on their skills, but also to pay the wages of the learner as well… this may be the reason why we’re struggling to create the employment vacancies and may be the reason why we’re failing.

What are the potential long-term consequences of a continued skills shortage?
As product, legislation and regulation becomes more complex, the need for skilled trades becomes even more important. If we don’t invest in the future, we all need to ask ourselves the question “who will fit my product”…

What advice do you have for individuals seeking to enter the kitchen & bathroom industry?
The KBB industry can be a rewarding and lucrative place for you to enjoy a long and successful career – whether you’re young and starting your career journey, or whether you’re thinking of a career change. The first place to look will be on our website, where we have a full suite of information and support available to those either looking at a new career, or those looking to take on someone new: https://bikbbi.org.uk/education

How can employers attract and retain talent in the face of skills shortages?

Firstly, businesses (if they’re not already), need to fully embrace installation within their model. Manufacturers need to support the work we do, retailers need to think differently and installers need to legacy plan for their retirement… Apprenticeships hold the key to many of these challenges. BiKBBI is very much here to support the industry’s charge on addressing the skills shortage, so please do reach out and let’s collaborate!

BiKBBI is a partner of Kbb Birmingham.

We also spoke to Richard Hibbert, National Chair of Kbsa for his views:

What are the key factors contributing to the skills shortage in the kitchens & bathrooms industry?

The pandemic had a significant detrimental impact on the provision of training and education and losing the Foundation Degree in Kitchen Design at Buckinghamshire New University (BNU), was a further blow. Training and education needs to have a much greater importance with everyone in the industry if we are going to make a difference to the skills gap.

What strategies are companies employing to address skills shortages in their workforce?

All businesses need young people to bring fresh ideas and build a secure base for the business to grow in the future. KBB retailers that have found the government sponsored schemes for apprenticeships cumbersome have used local contacts and created their own in-house training opportunities. Many Kbsa members have been approached direct by young people that have taken the initiative to seek out an employer that is willing to offer a job alongside training. 

How can schools/further education, associations and businesses collaborate to bridge the skills gap?

Many schools and further education colleges are open to building relationships with businesses that want to engage young people and help them develop skills, making it worthwhile for retailers to make contact with those in their area.

Kbsa is a partner of Kbb Birmingham and will be providing business advice at drop-in clinics at the event.

Addressing the skills gap in the KBB sector is not only crucial to future growth but also a transformative opportunity. As the industry continues to evolve, bridging this shortfall through innovative training programs, industry collaborations, and a forward-thinking approach is essential for developing a skilled workforce. By investing in education, technology, and industry partnerships, we can ensure that the KBB sector thrives with qualified professionals who are well-equipped to meet the demands of a dynamic and fast-changing market. Ultimately, the journey to bridge the skills gap is a collective effort that promises a brighter future, contributing to the overall growth and sustainability of our industry.

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