Fitter for the purpose

Nathan Helms, the joint MD of Arte Form, considers the predicted catastrophe caused by an industry-wide skills shortage and explains why he’s confused by the Wras approvals scheme and whether compliance with it is strictly necessary

I was very interested by what BiKBBI chief executive Damian Walters had to say about how a woeful shortage of professional installers could prove catastrophic for the KBB industry.

From my own standpoint at Arte Form, we often find ourselves speaking with so-called plumbers that have, in some cases, obviously very little in the way of qualifications. Furthermore, many retailers will testify there is a marked difference between plumbers and bathroom fitters.

So, what to do? Well, part of the issue is that I could buy a white van tomorrow, paint ‘Nathan – Highest Quality Bathroom Fitter’ on the side, throw some tools in the back and I’m off and running. Nothing stops me from doing that.

Of course, training does exist – my own son, for example, is currently looking at college courses in this field. The irony is that many young people are avoiding this line of work in favour of fantasising about being the next massive YouTube influencer living off free product placements. That kind of here-today, gone-tomorrow work is eclipsed by a virtual guarantee of a job for life in the installation sector – and you can become a wealthy installer to boot. If only they knew that with a couple of years’ solid graft at a technical college, coupled with some hands-on site work, they would be set for life.

That kind of here-today, gone-tomorrow work is eclipsed by a virtual guarantee of a job for life in the installation sector – and you can become a wealthy installer to boot. If only they knew that with a couple of years’ solid graft at a technical college, coupled with some hands-on site work, they would be set for life.

That leads me on to my second point – the minefield of regulations that are all over our industry, ideally demonstrated by the Wras scheme.

Is it law? Is it a definite legal requirement? Do I need Wras for new-build only? Are non-Wras products rubbish?

On the Wras website, it says: “A Wras approval is an easy way to demonstrate compliance for a material or water fitting”.

Wras is simply an ‘easy way’ to demonstrate compliance, but it’s not the only way.

One evening, I really had nothing better to do, so I read the by-laws and just one snippet nailed it for me…
“Requirements for water fittings, etc.
4. (1) Every water fitting shall:
(a) be of an appropriate quality and standard; and
(b) be suitable for the circumstances in which it
is used.”

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So, any water fitting must comply with UK by-laws, not with Wras in itself. The by-laws do go on to comment on “appropriate standards”, but do not refer to Wras being
a requirement.

Compliance
This all comes down to the infamous phrase of being ‘fit for the purpose’.

A while back, the then BMA chief executive Yvonne Orgill [now CEO of the Unified Water Label] was referring to the need for “compliance certificates”, such as CE marks. When speaking to a Wras testing station, I explained that Arte Form taps and shower valves do conform to UK by-laws, have been manufactured in Europe to the latest EU criteria, have certified CE marks, are approved in the EU and already have Wras-approved cartridges, flexi-tails and aerators.

So when the same Wras testing station told me that when you put all these Wras-approved parts together with a brass tap body, it doesn’t actually then make a Wras-approved product, we at Arte Form towers were left scratching our heads.

You might say, well just get the product Wras approved, then. It costs £2,000 plus VAT to test a shower valve and £1,800 plus+ VAT to test a tap.

When I asked what the ‘test’ on the tap involved, they told me they have a machine that opens and closes the tap head 2,000 times to assure the integrity of the cartridge. I pointed out that the cartridge manufacturer had already done that 10,000 times.

I called a large water authority last year to speak directly to them about this. They conceded that there was no reason why they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, turn the water on to a site that had fitted non-Wras products. As long as the fittings complied with the by-laws, we would be OK, they said. But wait for it… they concluded by telling me they were more interested in the certification and qualifications of the installers, which brings us full circle back to the skills shortage highlighted by Damian Walters.

So, let’s see what we can all do as an industry to encourage young people to get qualified as proper bathroom fitters.

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