Tackling the recruitment crisis

There’s a huge increase in demand, bulging order books and new customers on the horizon, but you don’t have the designers or installers you need. Vicki Evans investigates the KBB recruitment crisis and finds that there may not be a quick fix.

Finding the right person for your team has always been a challenge. However, the pandemic has exacerbated many long-standing issues. In addition, the increased demand for kitchens and bathrooms has seen the majority of retailers with their order books full until the end of next year and in desperate need of new staff to help. 

Bringing new people into your business can relieve stress and the workload but can be an investment in time and money in training to ensure they meet your standards.

So, what are the major recruitment issues affecting the industry right now? Simon Acres, managing director of KBB recruitment consultancy Simon Acres Group explains: “We have many businesses looking for staff, but there are shortages across the board. There is an acute shortage of skilled fitters, but designers and salespeople are also in short supply. Retailers and merchants are dealing with increased demand from consumers eager to buy and actively trying to recruit.

“As with other industries, older, more experienced people have left during the lockdown, and there are not enough young people to take their place. We desperately need more young people to seek out careers in the KBB industry. Traditionally, our industry has not had obvious paths for training and education.”

The road to being part of the KBB industry has never been a particularly straight path. There is no clear route, and retailers have wildly different stories to explain how they started out. From joining as a cabinet maker or a plumber, or coming from an interior design route, or the classic, ‘I just kind of  fell into this industry and never left’.

The winding road can be brilliant for the industry. It’s less restrictive as it opens up potential for a host of new and innovative people to join. With the shortage of skilled designers, fitters and every job in between, we need to make sure that the KBB industry is welcoming and appealing to everyone.

Peter Jones, founder and managing director of Foyne Jones Recruitment Group, believes that if retailers want to find the perfect person for their team they need to devote a lot of time and effort to the search. That requires focus, as well as thinking from the potential employees’ perspective to get to grips with what they might want from the job.

“As a retailer, you have to take the recruitment process seriously and bear in mind that, as much as you don’t want to hear this, what you think is an ‘amazing’ opportunity may be the polar opposite for someone else,” he explains. “So, if you want access to the very best individuals, think about what motivates them and what they want from an employer. Then, if you can connect those factors, the rest can happen quite naturally.”

When you do finally get to sit down with a candidate, it is as much about them interviewing you as it is about you interviewing them. They need to realise why working for you and your business – and in this particular  industry – is right for them. 

The formal approach and hiring designers who have qualifications – like the New Bucks Uni foundation degree or BA in kitchen design – is one way to attract skilled individuals. This course in particular has gained real traction in the seven years since it started, with many graduates landing successful jobs within the industry.

Confidence

After undertaking the degree course, one of the major traits course leader, Jayne Hall Cunnick, noticed in her students was how confident they had become. This confidence, combined with the theoretical knowledge, means they would be able to push themselves more in everyday showroom situations. As, she explains, building confidence is just as important as design skills or product knowledge.

“The thing that all students come out thinking is ‘I never believed that I could be that confident’,” she explains. “When you work in a showroom, it is all about confidence. If a person is confident enough in what they need to find out from a customer, they can become a lot more independent, even if they don’t have that much experience in the industry.” 

Even if you manage to find the person you believe to be the perfect fit for the role, regardless of experience, training them in the day-to-day running of your showroom could take up valuable time and money. You – and your current team – will need to be able to take on the role of teacher in addition to your day-to-day functions. 

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With the level of demand in the industry and retailers needing new staff to hit the ground running from day one, it can be hard to get the right balance between finding someone with the right skills and the right mind-set to learn.

There is an argument that hiring on attitude, rather than skill set or experience, is a better way to approach recruitment, as even an experienced designer will need to learn about your company culture.

Justine Bullock, co-owner of The Tap End in Pontyclun, has taken on people with no design experience, but with a suitable attitude, which has been a better fit. Of course, taking a chance on someone is a risk, but The Tap End uses a probation period in case they don’t perform well with design work or can’t get to grips with the intense training.

Bullock explains: “You can tell within a week if someone has a natural flair for design or not. If our recruits don’t have what it takes, we won’t continue past probation. It’s a conversation we have from the outset, so everyone is on the same page.”

Having systems in place that allow you to take chances on candidates without potentially damaging your business can pay off. 

And, with the lack of suitable candidates available to work, bigger risks may need to be taken.

When we surveyed the kbbreview100, the majority of our trusted team of independents said they had experienced some sort of issue with recruitment over the past 18 months. Some said they hadn’t been able to find a single suitable candidate for the roles they had advertised, while some, like Mark Fullilove, digital marketing manager at Sanctuary Bathrooms in Leeds, reported they had received hundreds of applications for each role.

Most retailers would probably agree that having a number of applications  for a vacancy doesn’t necessarily make the process of finding the right candidate any easier. Fullilove explains that it is still about finding the one in a sea of potential. 

“Every organisation wants to recruit the best,” he explains. “It is important for some roles; we are also not afraid to look beyond professional experience and take a rounded view if someone can demonstrate skills in other ways. 

“Sometimes a leap of faith is needed to give a candidate a chance, regardless of experience, and that is a view we will continue to take.”

Once you have the right person – be it in experience or just attitude – you need to mould them then to be part of your organisation, to understand your team, your brand, your suppliers and how you all work together. 

Getting to know you

With six showrooms across Scotland, Kitchens International has developed its own training academy. The Academy isn’t a bricks-and-mortar school, but rather a training course that teaches young designers, installers, and others about the business.

“It’s not an overnight return on investment,” explains Paul O’Brien, director of Kitchens International. “People have to look at at least a couple of years’ worth of time and effort before they get something back. It is a bugbear of mine when retailers ask ‘where do you find good people’, but I say grow your own and bring people through the door and educate them. That’s also how you retain staff.”

In contrast, smaller retailers with only one showroom and a handful of staff may find it more difficult to hire staff and find the right person. However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it is not worth doing.

Elizabeth Pantling-Jones, director of Lima Kitchens in Milton Keynes, admits they have had a terrible time finding the right people, but thinks that it is still every retailer’s responsibility to help train and up-skill its staff. 

“It’s essential for independent businesses to carry out their own training,” she says. “Each business has such varied approaches and outlooks that capturing these differences would be too difficult for a central base.”

There may be no short-term fix to the recruitment crisis, but many have had success by taking a leap of faith with someone who shows promise yet doesn’t have the desired skills, or maybe considering people from other, relevant industries. Either way, it is an issue the industry needs to address for the long term.  

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