“In 25 years of installing windows, doors and conservatories plus a decent amount of roofline thrown in, I have never known it so busy. But at the risk of sounding ungrateful, I am struggling to enjoy the fruits of my labours because I cannot get the staff. Where are all these people tossed out of work by Brexit and the pandemic? They’re certainly not in the East of England. What is your view Danny?” (TD Norfolk)
I have been selling double glazing since the glory days of the ‘Eighties TD, one of the original White Gold hooligans in fact. And whilst people were clamouring to fit piles of white plastic casements backed by deals such as ‘7 windows and a front door for a grand’ with aluminium a thing of the past, the feeding frenzy that is today’s market beats that hands down.
Although I earned my spurs in those heady early days whilst we might have had a bit of fun with punters, the truth is that we didn’t need to pull any real strokes because people just wanted their white, bright plastic frames and the promise of chucking their paint brushes in the bin. Back then unemployment was more than 6.5 million, or around 5.5%, although on a downward trajectory, and I don’t remember having any problems finding decent people.
By comparison unemployment in the UK towards the end of May ’21 was not so far short of that figure, at 4.8% although this was reducing rapidly as lockdown restrictions were being removed. This compares to 4% just prior to the lockdown.
So much for the statistics however: because just like you TD, even during lockdown when the hospitality, events and other industries were closed, we still struggled to find people. Any people, let alone good, reliable people.
So, on the one hand we and our installer customers have orders coming out of our ears; and on the other neither they, nor we, can find decent people for any functions, office, factory or site based. Where are they?
My current pet hate is directed to employment agencies. And bearing in mind my past as a real-life cast member of White Gold, I feel vindicated by any stunts that I might have pulled by the behaviour of these scum bags. You operate on my patch TD so it is possible you may have come across some of these people, who pull such stunts as re-poaching staff that they placed with me, as soon as the cooling off period ends, and scouring social media to track people down to call them at work….sitting at my desks and driving my vans!
This aside, the furlough scheme is set to reduce significantly if we have completed the so called ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, which should be around the time that this magazine hits the streets and ended completely in September. And the prediction is that many more people will be pitched out of work if they are not put back to the grindstone by their employers. But what is anybody doing on furlough now? What businesses can there possibly be that are not open again and already building back better, as the Blonde Bombshell puts it?
The truth is TD that I do not see a solution in the short term: we already pay well but then our competitors will come after some of our people and offer them more, then we top it up a bit and so on, or more often than not Danny loses it and tells them they can jolly well shove off and join the other chaps, or words to that effect, and so the merry go round continues.
But whilst business is so good and Mr and Mrs Jones appear to be prepared to dip deep into their pile of unspent holiday cash to pay decent money for their new windows and bi-folds, we need the people and those that are half decent we have to look after. It’s a very delicate balance and a game that we have to play if we want to stay in business.
For the longer term we have to do something to encourage people to at least be aware of our industry, as a decent choice for a career and gainful employment, rather than being characterised still as a bunch of sharp suited, fork tongued hustlers that I am sure is still representative of ‘the double-glazing industry’. We have an abundance of decent training schemes for anyone on the tools or in the factory, whilst opportunities for the finest sales, marketing and other management people are as good as any other industry. We are as professional as any other industry, and sharper than most.
There is an initiative called ‘Building Our Skills’ – BOS – out there that seems to be gaining some traction lately, which has the goal of presenting the window and door industry as a viable career choice, for school and university leavers, and others seeking a career change, especially those leaving the armed forces and the like.
I have employed former prisoners previously with some success and am keen to get involved with anything that has a positive effect on my business and my conscience at the same time. BOS, which is getting support from organisations such as FENSA and a number of top businesses, is something to think about for the longer-term TD and you can find more information here: buildingourskills.co.uk
In the meantime, if you happen to stumble upon the huge people pit where all these unemployed are hiding, give me a shout will you?
* Danny Williams is managing director of Chelmsford based Pioneer Trading and has been involved with all aspects of the windows and doors industry for 30 years. His activities include manufacturing a full range of windows and doors in PVC-U and aluminium, an IGU facility, retailing and commercial contracting.