Winter is always a challenging season for specialist contractors. Days are short and weather slows sites down, but even though a cold hard economic climate has been forecast for some time, there is a new year ahead of us and many members continue to report full order books into 2018.
There is little that individual companies can do about the economy’s impact upon the market. As they say in football, all you can do is play the team in front of you. We can read the forecasts, ensure we are aligned to growth areas and continue to run efficient productive businesses, but can do little to influence the market.
There are, however, problems we can foresee and can influence, and it is these that we should be focusing our attention on. The basic philosophy of FIS is to listen to our members, identify issues and see if we can find a solution, rather than wait for someone to find a solution we don’t like. Practically, it is far more difficult to change something once it is in place than it is to get ahead of the problem.
The skills gap is a good example of FIS working with the sector and CITB to find a solution. We face a massive skills gap caused by an ageing workforce and a lack of new entrants from the UK. Brexit will restrict the flow of new entrants from the EU; by how much, we do not know. If there were to be no impact from Brexit on our labour supply, however, there is another very good reason why we need to tackle the skills gap, and that is Grenfell.
We are already seeing clients asking for greater evidence of compliance, essentially saying “Prove to me that you have met the specification.” Many contractors are struggling to do this, either because they do not have adequate records of the installation or because the routes to compliance are not clear.
We can either leave somebody else to resolve this issue or offer some leadership as the representatives of the sector. If we leave it to others, they will not understand the complexities of the sector and come up with a process that suits their needs at the expense of ours. Alternatively, we can develop a process that demonstrates routes to compliance to meet their needs and is workable without a massive increase in the administrative burden and cost.
FIS has already started the process by bringing together manufacturers, designers, specifiers, clients, main contractors and contractors to establish what a compliant system would look like. The process will need to take advantage of digital technology, be simple to use on-site and software agnostic to allow members to use whatever software they already deploy.
The review of compliance will need to look at many facets of the construction process, such as testing of products and systems and how these are reported, through to how we prove our workers are competent to install these systems.
Proving the installation is compliant should be the responsibility of the installer but that requires clear standards to install against. We will see a return of the Clerk of Works and that is welcome but any process we develop to prove compliance should be to aid them, not leave responsibility at their door. Not least because we already have a skills shortage; where are all these multi-skilled experienced Clerks coming from in the near term?
This is scary stuff. The age of “that will probably work” has passed; we will be in the “prove it or replace it” era. Good companies should thrive in the new era. It will level the playing field and allow those who invest in good QA and skills to flourish. Those who cut corners and leave training to others will struggle to meet this enhanced quality threshold.
Winter may be upon us but members should be better insulated from the change in climate than the chancers of this world. I wish you all a prosperous New Year.
FIS chief executive