The UK kitchen and bathroom sector is sleepwalking into an installation ‘catastrophe’ because it is only ‘nodding in agreement’ rather than taking decisive action over the crippling lack of qualified fitters.
That was the stark warning from BiKBBI chief executive Damian Walters as he opened the organisation’s annual conference this morning at the QEII Centre in Westminster, central London.
The industry, he says, must take immediate practical steps to address not just the current shortage of existing fitters, but also the chronic lack of new installers coming through apprenticeship schemes.
“Increased lead times and reputational damage caused by a widening skills gap is bad for all business. Whether you’re a supplier, distributor, manufacturer, merchant or retailer – this situation has the potential to cause significant damage to your business and brand – in fact, it probably already has.
“As we sit at this critical juncture… I call upon this industry to wake up, smell the coffee and take immediate action, without further delay.
“Whether that’s taking on an apprentice, sharing the opportunities with your audience, whether it’s through funding or supporting your own supply chains to take on an apprentice, we need to unite and overcome the challenge together.”
Walters said that in 2021/22, following an initiative that saw the BiKBBI presenting to thousands of students at schools and colleges across the UK, more than 350 school leavers expressed an active interest in starting an apprenticeship as fitted furniture installers.
“However, the tragic fact is that as a multi-billion-pound industry with thousands of installers, manufacturers and retailers, between us all we couldn’t create 350 apprenticeship vacancies,” Walters said. “And the net result of this travesty is that the 350 school leavers left and have embarked on careers elsewhere.”
These 350 missed qualified fitters would, he estimated, extrapolate to 15,000 installation projects a year.
“Despite the great collaborative work we have achieved in the creation of a fit-for-purpose apprenticeship, our industry is failing,” he said. “While pockets of great work and support exist, the industry is simply not doing enough to overcome the skills gap crisis as a collective. There is no other way to put it and sugar-coating that news will not help.”
“Other industries have succeeded in the adoption of apprentices – the plumbing and heating sector has fully embraced a scheme that is now starting to reverse their skills gap crisis. We have hardly scratched the surface and are nowhere near a place that makes me feel at all comfortable about the future of our sector. The familiar nodding in agreement needs to now progress through to real action and, ultimately, the employment of real apprentices. Every one of us has a responsibility to play a participating role if we’re to avoid a land without labour.”
• Listen to the latest episode on The kbbreview Podcast all about Bathroom retailers going into kitchens. Listen below, on desktop, YouTube, or on your podcast player of choice like Apple Podcasts or Spotify.