Addressing the skills gap crisis – Stephen Johnson, MD Quooker UK

Throughout the pandemic and resultant lockdowns, at Quooker we have tried to support the wider industry wherever possible. During a crisis such as this, brands are faced with two choices. To shrivel up and remain inward focused, or to work together sharing expertise and resources, to help the industry re-build, recover and thrive. As a company, we have become increasingly conscious that bigger brands have a wider responsibility of care, wherever that support is needed most.

As we have weathered the Covid storm and looked at how our own workforce operates, this crisis has been helpful in shining a light on the sizeable, and growing, skills gap the UK is facing. High consumer demand for installation and after-sales care is increasingly unable to be met with any speed and in many cases, without any guarantee of quality. No matter how many taps we sell or indeed any kitchens and bathrooms across the industry, if there are not enough installers to keep pace, there is an inevitable bottleneck. As such, it’s an area that requires drastic change and immediate support.

Quooker has been involved with several industry initiatives throughout the pandemic. These have included job support schemes, redundancy workshops, financial support schemes for our dealers and driving footfall to the independent showrooms through activity with the KBSA. So, when I saw a LinkedIn post from BiKBBI’s own Damian Walters calling for support and brands willing to help drive genuine change to grow the next generation of KBB installers, I knew we couldn’t sit back and do nothing. What I hope our three-year investment has done is make the wider industry aware of the task ahead.

The growing skills gap is only going to worsen if decisive and real action is not taken now. We cannot afford to wait years for this to change. Proper and sustainable foundations need to be in place for this to happen, and I am under no illusion that will take time.

One of the best ways change can be achieved is to raise the profile of installers and fitters. It has been the case for too long that they are treated as second-class citizens. We want to change this perception and instil real value back into the role which is so crucial to the industry’s ability to bounce back. For example, if we want to include more women in the wider installer workforce – for which there is a need for greater diversity – there has to be better education and awareness of the profession. Through the BIKBBI’s Centres for Excellence and grass-roots outreach in local schools and colleges, the goal is absolutely to train up more young men and women to be a part of the larger installer workforce.

The whole reason for this initiative is to increase the number of apprenticeships in the KBB sector. There aren’t a lot currently out there, and it is our sincere intention to change that. As a company, we have recently introduced a mentoring scheme which looks to pair up experienced installers with younger team members. This will allow the sharing of industry tips and unparalleled product knowledge which is something that can only truly be learnt on the job. By offering this practical training scheme our hope is that we produce installers and fitters who are more confident and better qualified for future jobs.

When it comes to hiring apprentices, we must all be willing to invest in individuals. We know training takes time and money, but if more KBB companies were open to this, the skills gap would significantly reduce rapidly.

Installation is one of the most important parts of our industry. Every manufacturer needs them. It is the lasting taste a customer or company feels about your business. Therefore, for me, there is no question in that we need to place more value on installers and think carefully about how we collectively work together to ensure there is a next generation of qualified and highly competent individuals to ensure we have a good supply. Put simply, if we do not, business fails. Partnering alongside the BiKBBI, we cannot urge other companies more strongly to stand with us and be willing to help fix this problem.