Fitter shortage ‘a perfect storm’, retailers warned

New research has revealed that the number of people moving to the UK from other EU countries has fallen to its lowest level since 2013, sparking renewed industry concerns over the dwindling supply of skilled installers.

A survey of 2,000 employers by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found the number of applicants per vacancy had fallen since last summer across all levels of skilled jobs.

The number of people applying for the average low-skilled vacancy has fallen from 24 to 20 in the past year and from 19 to 10 for medium-skilled posts.

Commenting on the news, Damian Walters, chief executive of the British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom Installers (BiKBBI) said: “Anecdotally, our industry is most definitely experiencing the challenges in line with migration data, and although we do not collate the ethnic origins of our members, I can confirm that the effects of Brexit are negatively impacting on the UK labour force – which would of course include KBB installers – and our members.”

However, Walters argued that the situation had been worsened by a shortfall in funding.

“This isn’t just about Brexit,” he said. “We’re suffering a clear skills shortage because of sheer lack of investment in the sector. A systematic failure to invest in the next generation of workforce is one contributory factor, and failed retail operations over the past decade dissuading installation businesses to continue their investment in our sector is another – and now of course Brexit is leading us into a perfect storm.”

Damian Walters
Damian Walters

“There are three ways get ourselves out of this mess,” Walters concluded. “First, we invest in apprenticeships and quite simply grow our own. Second, we collectively create a desirable proposition for both professional tradespeople and the retailer; and thirdly, we work together to both develop and deliver smart solutions that provide a great customer-focused service. It’s not rocket science, but it will take a holistic approach by this industry.”

Kbbreview columnist Derek Miller of Scope Bathrooms in Glasgow agreed: “I’ve spoken to many of our large contractor customers and they all tell me the same thing; that there is currently a significant shortage of labour, due largely to the loss of apprentices and skilled operators during the recession,” he said. “Every house builder in the country has growth plans, but there simply is not the labour available to support build programmes.

“There is already evidence that Brexit is having a significant impact on the number of skilled Europeans coming to work in the UK, so the labour shortage will undoubtedly be exacerbated. The impact in London and the South-East, where European labour was most prevalent, will be very significant. I agree with Damian that it’s a perfect storm.”

Meanwhile Gary Walmsley of Posh Bathing in Bolton said there was “no doubt about a UK-based skill shortage”. But, he said, there had been “no will to address the situation”.

“Companies like mine, genuinely for monetary reasons and bureaucracy – health and safety being a major factor – stopped training fitters. It became obvious that it was making a business uncompetitive from a quoting perspective. I know lots of EU nationals making a good living in the home improvements and KBB industry, so it’s hard to put a real figure on this issue.

Derek Miller
Derek Miller

“Apprentice or trainee, training has got to be uniform and non-profit-making, and definitely non-political – all liabilities must be underwritten by the Government.”

Meanwhile, on the kitchen side, Gary Baker, MD of Corian specialist CD UK, said: “The whole furniture and interiors industry has been hit by a shortage of availability of EU staff, both skilled and unskilled. It’s part of what we have been lobbying the Government about through the British Furniture Confederation (BFC), although we’ve been keen to point out that we need to get skills training for UK workers as the priority rather than focusing on the short-term issue to get us through this difficult period.”

Bill Miller, managing director of buying group Der Kreis UK, concluded that “everyone is waiting to see what impact our exit is going to have”.

“Looking at the number of job adverts, there is already a shortage of experienced kitchen designers and installers and I am sure that Brexit will not help,” he admitted, “but as yet I have not detected a significant worsening of the situation.”

Home > News > Fitter shortage ‘a perfect storm’, retailers warned