No matter what part of the KBB sector we work in, we must all play a part in addressing the challenges that face our industry, says Damian Walters, chief executive of the BiKBBI.
As the only Government-sanctioned organisation dedicated to kitchen, bedroom and bathroom installation, for almost two decades we have represented thousands of installation businesses and installers nationwide and established and nurtured relationships with a wide network of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retailers and other stakeholders within the KBB industry. We have a pretty good steer on the challenges facing the sector but cannot engineer the solutions single-handedly – this needs to come from the industry, with the insight and guidance of the BiKBBI Education Committee (ESC) which recently met for the first time following its assembly in May 2023.
The purpose of the ESC is to facilitate debate on important issues facing the sector, defining areas of focus in line with industry needs, identifying goals and objectives and providing an effective forum for decision-making, and is therefore made up of board members representing all areas of the KBB sector. The committee will primarily concentrate on apprenticeships, CPD and retraining.
In recent years, BiKBBI’s focus has been apprenticeships, and rightly so. Without serious attention and investment to bring young people into our industry, the medium-term looks bleak and the long-term will almost certainly result in failure. There is now a fit-for-purpose apprenticeship in place, the Level 2 Fitted Furniture Installer apprenticeship, and we have seen strong interest to join the sector from school and college leavers following a light tough outreach project we delivered. It is now down to the industry to take ownership of the challenge and responsibility for the solution by creating opportunities for these young people. What does this actually mean?
If you are an installation business with growth aspirations or retirement plans, you might have dismissed an apprentice before based on misconceptions or dated views – but a modern apprenticeship can add significant value to your business and, with the support packages that BiKBBI has in place, it could become a very viable solution.
Manufacturers, retailers and suppliers may think that there is little they can do because they don’t employ an installation workforce directly, but there is much they can do to support the cause and make a difference. Ultimately, how we handle the current skills gap will impact all areas of the industry and therefore we must all do our bit. Those that don’t employ installers will have a far-reaching network of contacts that will either directly or indirectly engage with the installation community – we need you to use your network to educate and change perceptions of apprenticeships amongst installers.
But apprenticeships are not the only area of focus for BiKBBI or indeed the ESC. With an ageing workforce and declining numbers of compliant installation specialists, our industry needs to find solutions for the short to medium term too. We believe that a robust CPD programme for the sector and an active resettlement plan, in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence, could hold the key and are therefore also high on the agenda. Once again, every business within the sector should be scrutinising their approach to CPD and considering whether retraining could help not only their business, but the industry as a whole. Perhaps you are already working on a plan for your business? Maybe you have a suggestion you would like to share? You can contact the BiKBBI Education Steering Committee by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.