Will higher snagging costs be the real trigger for better training?
By David Thornton, chairman of The Window Company (Contracts).
The industry seems finally to have recognised that it needs to step up its focus on skills and training if it is to continue to attract new talent and compete in a post Brexit Britain.
As a business, which arguably has the best trained workforce in the industry, I would question why it has taken so long.
We joined the elite group of installers holding the Kitemark for window installation based on BS8213-4 way back in 2016 and continue to invest around £100,000 a year in training, via a mix of in-house and external training courses and in the production of our own training manuals and standardised Toolbox Talks procedural documents.
We are also backing the industry’s Building our Skills campaign, and are closely involved with the government’s Pathfinders programme to create standardised apprenticeship routes specifically for this industry.
Apart from the obvious concerns about the shortage of skilled labour in the industry though, the overriding reason why skills training really matters to most installation businesses – and what I think will eventually drive the investment neede d– is that it generates real and tangible payback.
On top of the reputational damage that comes from a poor installation, we estimate that it costs a minimum of £100 to return to any job because of a snagging issue, and that cost is rising. If you can train your workforce to eliminate all of the avoidable snags, then it’s evident that you can start to see real savings. We’ve certainly achieved that over the past year with the percentage of our snagging calls attributable to surveying or adjustment issues being reduced from 36.9% in May 2018 to 28.6% in May this year.
Avoidable snags are everything from windows and doors not being fitted square, making them difficult to open or close, to poor trimming, poor mastic application and scratched glass. But they also include less obvious errors such as having to return to a customer because they haven’t been given adequate product knowledge on how to operate their new windows and doors properly.
In my view, a focus on fitting quality has to start at the top. Every individual within the business has to know and understand the fitting standards required and has to be willing to accept random inspections to ensure that these are being maintained. For us that extends beyond how the window and door products are actually being fitted in accordance with our Kitemark, and encompasses everything from tidiness on site to politeness to residents.
What’s important to recognise is that it takes a long time to learn to fit windows and doors properly. One or two-day courses are fine for refreshing knowledge but they are no substitutes for proper apprenticeships and NVQs. We put all our fitters onto NVQ training courses because it gives them the chance to apply what they are learning in the classroom out in the field, and to benefit from working alongside the rest of the team. I know a lot of work is being done to signpost more companies like ourselves to specialist longer term training providers and that’s very welcome.
As companies diversify into new specialist products though, the risk of costly snagging is increasing. We’re seeing plenty of training being provided by manufacturers on fitting things like lantern roofs and bifolds and, while this is helpful, I think it’s actually of very limited value without a very firm skills base at the outset. And, I would certainly argue that no one should be diversifying into installing aluminium windows and doors without considerable additional training over and above what they have learned about PVCU.
Fundamentally, training is an investment and not a cost, and if it’s the rising cost of returning to a job that drives that investment for installers, then it could actually turn out to be a good thing.