The lack of skills in the construction industry – not just the glass and glazing sector – is a cause for concern. We talk to Glass Express Midlands’ Managing Director Arun Photay about what practical measures can be taken to alleviate the situation.

When Glass Express Midlands organised a roundtable event in May this year, the focus was on better regulation and closer working relations with government. To that end, great strides were made, with encouragement from one MP, and a commitment to closer working arrangements between trade associations.

While conversations largely stayed on track, one fundamental challenge refused to be ignored: the worrying lack of skilled individuals required to allow the construction industry to operate effectively.

“Our headline news story at the conclusion of our Roundtable Event in London in May, was a willingness from government to work closer with industry, and for construction industry bodies – such as the GGF and CAB – agreeing to present a unified voice to government,” Glass Express Midlands’ Managing Director Arun Photay says.

“We actually began the day with Eddie Hughes MP, who was previously the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing at DLUHC (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), telling delegates that a single unified body representing the interests of all parties would help ensure Building Regulations are workable.

“But while working with government is key to making Building Regulations work, so is the need for adequate training.”

Arun explains that the Roundtable event raised a number of key issues. He said that delegates representing architects, specifiers, installers and product manufacturers all raised the same point: that a lack of expertise and knowledge is undermining the success of some projects.

“We had one manufacturer explain that they use technology to demonstrate Building Regulation compliance, and for meeting projects’ specifications,” Arun says. “But that when products are swapped out for cheaper alternatives, the desired goals aren’t achieved because there is a lack of knowledge in the middle of the supply chain.

“The knock-on effects can be considerable, such as overheating, poor security, and even dangerous installations.

“It was also pointed out that as components are changed in a project, then all calculations will be affected, but no-one is going to know if they don’t have that key information.”

Arun says some home truths were shared about the glass and glazing industry specifically. He quoted the GGF’s current President Natalie Little who said: “Our industry isn’t seen as a place to go into from school – people are falling into it. We’re not attracting talent, so we don’t get the right professionalism.”

Despite this, there are elements of positivity. Gurprit Bassi, Director at Wintech Façade Consultants, said they had signed a memorandum of understanding with UCL, Wolverhampton Uni, and Edinburgh, to attract more talent at university level.

But Liz Williams, Housing and Communities Board Member at Centre for the New Midlands Housing Communities said that was too late.

“We need to attract people at school-level,” she said. “We need promotion of the old-school trades.”

And this is where Arun agrees the focus should be.

“Kirsty, our Technical Manager, takes one day a month to go into schools and colleges to talk about women in construction and to entice people into the role,” he says. “Educating people at a young age needs to be a priority.

“With this inherent knowledge, we can build our highly experienced technical team that can provide all the support required to ensure the right products are specified for the right projects, and that they are installed correctly.

“We know from discussions with clients that not every supplier can offer this level of service, which means our competitive advantage is that we can offer valuable solutions that our customers may not have known existed.

“However, I’d much rather we all had access to this skilled workforce because a rising tide lifts all ships – if glass and glazing was viewed as a skilled and professional industry, then we would all benefit.”

For Arun, while the focus of the Roundtable discussion was on raising professional standards, thanks to closer collaboration with government, addressing the skills crisis should also form part of that same agenda.

“It’s heartening to see so many individual attempts at training the next generation of skilled workers in the glass and glazing industry,” he says, “But if we can be more strategic in our approach, helped by meaningful input from government, then we can look to a brighter future where the success of our projects aren’t hinged on whether or not someone has the right qualifications.”

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