As the voice of the industry, the CFA is naturally also concerned about the skills and labour crisis, mentioned in despatches, and involved. So here are a few of my thoughts to add to the discussion.
AS David Strydom points out, CFJ covers training on a regular basis and there’s often input from the CFA and FITA. But such is the situation now (I don’t think it’s too dramatic to call it a crisis) it’s no surprise that specialist contractors and CFA members are sending up flares and raising the alarm.
I also have to say I agree with many of the soundbites and statements in the articles from the Yorkshire contractor and the senior figures in the industry.
Most are involved in the CFA as council members, committee members or contractor members, and as such influence CFA policy and work. We listen, but it’s always of course an amalgamation of ideas.
There’s no simple fix. If there were, the many talented and clever people in our industry would already have implemented it as there are strong commercial drivers to do so.
Later in this article I suggest a main starting point and the other main aim of this piece is to provide an overview of what the CFA council have identified as our role. As you’ve seen, Shaun focuses on funding and, directly after my response, Hamish will provide his perspective as a contractor on the realities of training, employing apprentices in his company and, his experience of some of the challenges of attracting and holding on to talent.
I think it was Einstein who said one definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting a different outcome. I think that’s where we are as an industry. We need to change a few things to reshape our industry in terms of the way we commit, attract, recruit, train, and qualify fitters.
I’m now hearing more and more people coming to that conclusion and whether it’s the CFA’s version of a solution, or indeed another one, we clearly do need to change.
At the moment the model includes some limited training and apprenticeship roles offered by contractors with, dare I suggest, too much focus on poaching those already experienced and qualified and paying ever-increasing rates.
A competitive market is healthy, but it has to be sustainable, and the figures and anecdotal evidence show ours is not. However, I now see some very honest debate taking place to take us forward and as has been pointed out, at our best our industry can do wonderful things.
There’s definitely one common theme and observation. This isn’t a new problem. Indeed, it has been building for many years across construction, but none of the actions in our sector have so far been successful in changing the dynamic.
Tipping the equation such that we fill the skills and labour gap quicker than people leave or when we need to satisfy peak demand. The ageing workforce is a common theme across construction, and in fact according to our 2021 Member Survey, the number of employed and subcontract labour used by CFA members has dropped by about 1,000.
Correspondingly, our 2019 membership return identified that members had a skills and labour shortage of around 11%. In the 2021 survey (we paused in 2020 due to the coronavirus) the figure has risen to almost 16%, ie if we added 16% more labour into our industry now, they could all be actively engaged.
We’re making some assumptions of course, but it seems too much of a coincidence that at the time access to EU labour changed, we measure another step change in what members would ideally like as their labour pool. In addition to that, everyone is still currently very busy and so some may also be increasing their perception of labour requirements to try and meet that demand.
For the first time in many years, I hear contractors telling me they’re turning work away or really cannot practically book any more work into the diary until well into 2022.
If I interpret correctly, the concerned contractor in Yorkshire indicates the CFA’s whole response to the skills and labour crisis was to ensure skilled EU labour could still be employed. That’s not the case. Our response to that specific issue was based on trying to maintain that labour stream, while also looking at the bigger picture.
The CFA council felt that turning off the EU labour supply overnight, with no other strategy, was going to be damaging. Therefore, as part of a bigger picture, the management team and I successfully lobbied to have floor laying included on the list of approved occupations, such that someone from an EU country (now only with sponsors) could still apply to work in the UK.
But it’s important to stress our commitment to homegrown labour and building a strong infrastructure to develop more UK-based fitters, forms a much greater part of what we see as a longer-term solution.
So, in a big picture sense, what does the CFA council see as the CFA’s role? Put simply, CFA feels that our role is to provide information about the training and qualification options available and where possible directly influence and contribute to the key inputs.
When industry wants to train or qualify someone, contractors can identify the best and most cost-effective way to do that and have access to qualifications and delivery – including at FITA. Each year, we’ve returned to this challenge in the hope that our actions will contribute to the mix of things that need to happen to increase the labour pool.
Our work over the past decade has included:
• With industry support, we’ve developed a leading training organisation for the UK flooring market – FITA. This is part of our commitment to training a UK workforce and something few trade bodies do ie direct training delivery.
• We have two training centres, one based in Loughborough and with the help of a CFA member and leading UK manufacturer, Forbo, we’ve added another training facility in Scotland at their Kirkaldy factory. That is due to reopen in 2022 and we intend to build on the range of courses and content available in Scotland. Loughborough remains open.
• When government scrapped the old apprenticeship framework, CFA members formed a committee and wrote the new Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standard. Our apprenticeship was one of the first to be approved by the Institute for Apprentices (IFA).
• FITA started delivery of apprenticeships in Loughborough in May 2021 with our first cohort and pilot of 20 apprentices. We’re actively lobbying members to grow a waiting list for the next intake and our apprenticeship delivery is available to non-members.
• Through our Scottish committee, we support strong apprenticeship delivery in Scotland.
• We’ve recently saved additional CITB funding (withdrawn for a few months) that is available for about 30% of industry and CFA members. All industry can get basic funding for apprenticeship training delivery. See the CFA Training Guide.
• We publish an annual Training Guide that promotes all training and apprenticeship providers including all independent delivery (not just FITA) and manufacturers courses. https://www.contractflooringjournal.co.uk/cfatrainingguide2021/mobile/index.html
• CFA members get 15% discount off all training at FITA.
• We have an apprentice route and an NVQ OSAT route to obtaining a standard or qualification, thus allowing a fitter to gain a CSCS card whatever their age or experience.
• CFA employed a training manager to support members navigating all the above.
The CFA council supports this work in the hope it will be part of the skills and labour solution. None of it is wasted, so what is the missing link? How do we tip the scales, rebalance the equation, and start to add significantly more fitters into our industry? For the sake of argument, I believe you can describe five elements that are required:
Good information about what is available
Scalable training and apprenticeship delivery available to meet demand
Demand from industry (jobs advertised and directed at new entrants to the industry)
A supply of good talent (applicants)
I’d suggest that the CFA very effectively manages and delivers the first two. In terms of the third, we have training and apprenticeship delivery available, and I believe it is relatively easily scalable. What we’re missing is (4 & 5) enough demand from industry and there is also a problem of finding good talent (see below) – apprentices and other new recruits who stay the course.
The Yorkshire contractor argues that the chicken-and-egg debate starts with setting up more local delivery and demand will follow. I hope he won’t be offended, but I simply disagree. Colleges are now businesses, and they require tangible evidence of demand, a structured and costed business plan against which they might consider setting up flooring delivery.
Without that, those that hold the purse strings simply won’t even start a conversation. For the CFA to influence this further (across the country) we would need demand and funding (a CFA training levy?) and a much bigger team of people.
History doesn’t support the idea of setting up local colleges as a first step either. Over the years, I’ve had many meetings (and Shaun continues with these) with construction colleges across the country and have seen several of them stop apprenticeship delivery (Leicester, Accrington, Yale, and the CITB flooring school at Erith – to name a few) all because they didn’t have enough students.
CFA worked with several of them to try and save their programmes, advertising courses to members and the wider industry, but uptake was not enough.
FITA is now busier than it has ever been, but we still have capacity, and I’m told manufacturers could offer more training if there was demand. Many book delegates on to free courses only to have no shows because other things (usually jobs that are deemed more important than the training) take precedence.
So, CFA suggests demand is the first step to an answer. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t support a new college and indeed having been approached by a contractor in Bristol, we’re working with all parties to see if we can provide support for the local college to begin apprenticeship delivery. They are crunching the numbers based on what everyone is telling them they can bring to the table.
16-18 year-old apprentices are part of the solution, but what about some 19-plus (mid-20s, mid-30s and beyond) who’ve been lost to education or are from outside industry but could find a brilliant career in flooring?
CFA is thinking of ways we can reach them as our next contribution to the equation by specifically identifying and attracting more new candidates that could become floorlayers. The Yorkshire contractor identifies some of the challenges of making flooring attractive and I see that as an issue too. Hamish MacGregor speaks about that in his article as he also does about the danger of training people and them leaving your business. As I started out by saying, it’s complex.
Current resources for recruitment include a website called Go-Construct, https://www.goconstruct.org/construction-careers/what-jobs-are-right-for-me/floor-layer/, where the CFA have populated the floor laying pages. This is an information portal that can be used to help a prospective employee understand what the industry looks like.
Launched on the 21 Sept 2021 and driven by the CLC, there is now also a web-based resource called Talentview https://talentview.org/construction. This allows flooring contractors to post fitting vacancies and/or apprentice opportunities for free. There’s also a website called the Construction Talent Retention Scheme, where those companies in construction that have found themselves having to make people redundant can offer those individuals to the rest of the industry. See https://www.trs-system.co.uk/construction.
But if I may, I feel another critical step is for more contractors (some already do) to commit to a programme of training and recruitment. It has to become a business priority for many more. To include some upskilling, some apprentices, some more mature recruits, and CPD for seasoned professionals. For CFA members, we can help put together ideas, point to resources and funding, and fill gaps in training knowledge.
David asks: ‘Who’ll pay?’ Above, Shaun explored current grants available in his article and the mechanisms for even more delivery. Disappointingly government’s Apprenticeship Levy adds no more funding for floorlaying apprenticeships than was already available and CITB funding is only available to those who are deemed by CITB to be in construction.
Again, Shaun covered that. But let’s not kid ourselves, it’s industry which will pay and much of the cost will fall to flooring contractors when they recruit and train someone. But if contractors need to pay, by default this also means clients need to pay and frankly that’s another dynamic that has to change. The real cost of fitting flooring has to include a fully trained, competent, and qualified workforce. Until that is included in the lowest price ever offered, we have a problem. There has perhaps never been a better opportunity than now.
Let’s talk to as many people as we can about coming into flooring and get those adverts on Talentview in January for fitting jobs, when all those News Year’s resolutions are still fresh in people’s minds.