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A roller coaster ride (but with more ups and downs)

Hamish MacGregor reviews his two years as the CFA president.

If you were going to pick a period of time during which you would be president of an important national trade association, you probably would not have picked the last two years!

But as my tenure of this role comes to an end this month, that is what it has been – and it has been interesting to say the least. The first thing I want to say right up front is to welcome the new president, Carl Harper of Westcotes Flooring, into this seat and wish him all the best for the coming two years. Hopefully the going will be a little smoother from here on.

Despite everything, I do firmly believe that the CFA, the UK’s only national trade association for the entire contract flooring industry, is in a better place than it was when I took over in summer 2020.

That’s a bit of a cheap shot, since my presidency kicked off virtually at the height of the first Covid-19 lockdown, when we were all a bit down in the dumps, so it’s not difficult to point to improvement!

But improvement there definitely has been, irrespective of lockdowns. Our achievements since 2020 have been down to our amazing industry and our even more amazing staff here at the CFA. I really believe that at the time of our members’ greatest need, the CFA justified its existence more than ever before by flagging up the key developments, the important information, and the latest regulations, helping members keep on the right side of the law and signposting appropriate support from Government and other bodies.

Our team have worked throughout, mainly remotely, and have always been there for our members. As a result, we have undoubtedly emerged stronger than when we went into the first lockdown. This was just as well, since, on emerging from Covid, we were immediately presented with material and labour shortages, unprecedented price inflation, and a war – you couldn’t make it up, as they say.

While our difficulties pale into insignificance, compared to those being faced by many in the world, they continue to impact on business effectiveness. One of the main systemic challenges facing our sector continues to be that of an aging workforce and the difficulty of attracting new entrants, of any age, into floor laying. I am therefore absolutely delighted that the CFA is launching its Future Fitter campaign to the industry this month.

If we are not successful in this, then there really won’t be an industry in a few years’ time. I strongly believe that we need two things to happen in order to solve this problem. We need more workplaces to provide training for their new recruits. As an employer myself, I do understand the concerns that employers have about training people up who then move on to another company once they’re trained. But it’s really the only way – and only presents as a problem because of the lack of skilled people in the sector generally – hopefully something we can tackle over time.

The other thing that needs to happen is that Government has to put more money into training.

Politicians are happy to talk about training and apprenticeships, but are much less forthcoming when it comes to making the necessary investment. There are simply not enough training places and this will continue unless they are properly funded.

An illustration of this is the fact that Rudge Brothers & James, the employer of the winner of the 2022 Flooring Apprentice of the Year, George Carter, was not able to get a college place for a flooring apprentice, but was able through a certified quality training company to offer a flooring apprenticeship course. All credit to both George and to his employer that he emerged victorious with such an outstanding portfolio of work.

Another existential challenge that hangs over us all is that of the climate crisis. Incidentally if you called it that a couple of years ago, you were viewed as some sort of extremist, but now the term is entirely mainstream, which hopefully shows that we are now taking this seriously, rather than we’ve just got used to it.

I am certainly confident that the CFA has adopted a high profile leadership role on this issue within the industry. We have organised meetings on the topic, we have worked with other organisations, notably the Construction Products Association – who continue to do excellent work around this – and we have produced our own publications to set out what needs to be done and also to help members on their own sustainability journeys. Notably these have been the report Zero Avoidable Waste in Flooring – Towards a Circular Economy and the CFA Guide to Sustainability 2022/23.

In fact one of the highlights of my term as president was the opportunity to visit the Cop26 conference in Glasgow last November. Although there have been arguments about the extent to which this took us forward, in view of the amounts of coal-fired power generation which is still allowed, there were nonetheless two big takeaways for me. One was the extent to which the world of big business and finance is now getting behind the need for climate action. To me this means it is much more likely to happen and provides grounds for optimism for the future – as does my second takeaway. This is the extent to which environmental thinking is now firmly embedded with the younger generation, who will hopefully avoid the mistakes made by my own generation. Getting environmentally responsible work practices into place on-site is going to be that much easier when people coming into our industry (which hopefully they will) bring an environmental mindset into work with them.

One of the strange things about the last couple of years and this, my second tour of duty as CFA president, has been that so much of our business and general interaction has been conducted via Zoom or Teams and not in person. You will therefore be happy to learn (perhaps!) that I am not disappearing off the scene after this month. My business, MacGregor Flooring Company still needs me for a few years yet (or I like to think so anyway!) and I also very much look forward to seeing many CFA members and others from the industry in person at the AGM later this month, at the CFA Networking Lunch and Golf Event, also in August, and the Autumn Ball in October. It was also really good to see many members at the Day at the Races at Hamilton Park Racecourse back in June.
So finally, see you all later in the year and good luck to Carl – I’m sure you’ll do a great job!
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