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A launchpad for the battles ahead

The skilled labour shortage is verging on a crisis, but an industry-wide response, fostered and encouraged by the CFA, may yet ensure there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

IF it’s not one thing, it’s something else, goes that wise old saying. Never has that been more accurate. The country resolved the excruciating Brexit political crisis, only to days later be plunged headlong into a global pandemic. And now that that pandemic is – it seems – on the wane, new problems (or rather old problems in new clothing) are cropping up everywhere.

For the flooring industry, most of which appears to have weathered Covid-19, the biggest issue post-pandemic is shaping up to be the skilled labour shortage. And it is no small issue!
The most common reason given for the shortage, notably in the construction industry, is an ageing workforce. As workers retire, fewer youngsters are entering the industry to replace them. The fear is the lack of suitable, qualified candidates will directly affect the industry fulfilling its projects.

There are various opinions about how we got into this mess in the first place. John Brown, managing director of Veitchi Flooring, believes the industry created the problem by taking the easier route of hiring mostly subcontractors. He says the onus is now on industry to sort things out by hiring mostly direct labour (but not excluding subcontractors, for whom there’ll always be a place).

Last month we published the opinions of an anonymous flooring contractor in Yorkshire whose view is that industry needs to join up its thinking and create several localised training colleges for apprentices. But where would the money come from? And would uptake be sufficient to allow the colleges to sustain themselves?

This month, CFA management – namely Richard Catt, Shaun Wadsworth, and Hamish MacGregor – respond thoughtfully to the crisis. Pointing out that they’ve indeed addressed the issue at length in the recent past (not least in the pages of CFJ), they nonetheless provide a wide-ranging, thoroughly comprehensive response to the idea that the issues can be resolved simply. If that was the case, it surely would’ve happened already.

‘In most cases any new opportunity for training in the flooring sector must be industry-driven and – more than likely – industry-financed,’ says Shaun. Richard disagrees with the contractor’s assertion that the chicken-and-egg debate starts with setting up more local delivery and demand will follow.

And Hamish, speaking from a contractor point of view (he’s founder and ceo of MacGregor Flooring), says: ‘The elephant in the room is the problem of training people and them leaving your business and going to work for someone else.’

It’s not difficult to see that everyone in the flooring industry wants a solution to this. Hopefully you’ll agree that, in the pages ahead, a launchpad has been provided for the end-game. 

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