Mind the skills gap: how can architectural ironmongery fight the war on talent?

Training and gaining knowledge is key to meeting the skills gap

The war on talent in the built environment has always been tough, with skills shortages well documented and new recruits thin on the ground. Now, with the Building Safety Act highlighting the essential need for competence, attracting and keeping the right people is even more challenging. 

The GAI conducted a survey in October to find out how its members are faring in the competition for skilled staff. The results show a considerable concern about skills shortages and over 72% of respondents reporting they had failed to fill vacancies in the last year. As a result many are reconsidering their approach to staff attraction and retention. 

Matthew Robinson, managing director at SFR, a specialist in the architectural ironmongery sector says his experience working with clients bears this out. “We’re  being approached by several companies eager to fill positions that have been vacant for a while. They’ve been trying to recruit and have found that the right people just aren’t looking. It is more difficult to attract talent at the moment; in the past we would easily get five suitable candidates to put forward for a role, but more recently it’s a challenge to find even three potential candidates. The reason is twofold: passive candidates are happy, content and meeting their targets and bonuses; in an uncertain market people tend to hold on to whatever stability they can in their lives and the thought of changing job is unsettling.”

However, Robinson says there are solutions to this issue. “In today’s climate, it will take something amazing to encourage candidates to apply. Naturally, the best available candidates will be drawn towards the most reputable companies or industry brands and the best salary packages. With the rising cost of energy and price inflation it’s a worrying time, so the possibility of earning extra cannot be ignored.

“Employees also want the chance to work closer to home and/or hybrid working (less commuting time and flexible working) to gain a better work-life-balance. With these things in mind companies need to revisit the packages they are offering and not just to benchmark the same as a competitor, they need to offer more. People just won’t move for the same salary and conditions; it has to be worth considering.

“Employers should also work on their own PR in order to be seen as an attractive employer. Ask yourself: why should people work for your company? What are the real incentives? Do you offer above average salaries and promotion prospects? Do you offer a stable employment and great benefits? Do you always win new contracts? Are you a friendly place to work that celebrates employees’ achievements, treats people well and has positive employee reviews? Reputation is very important for companies to attract the best talent.

 In a world of generalists how do we ensure that specialist skills are
not only retained but respected and invested in?”

Kavita Parmar, a business partner at HR specialists Quest agrees. “A business needs to stand out,” and adds that job ads must be fully transparent about the role, salary and benefits. He goes one stage further to suggest that potential candidates are invited to meet the team and gain a feel for the workplace. 

Retention of employees is the next challenge. “Employees must be happy within their workplace,” says Parmar, who recommends holding employee engagement surveys. “Employees provide feedback regarding the business, department or even team. The feedback is reviewed and changes are made where applicable. Employers should also consider yearly pay reviews; hold one-to-one meetings to discuss training requirements and understand the employee’s career aspirations. People management is key to any successful business.”

Where are the skills?

The GAI member survey also revealed the skills shortages the industry is facing. SFR has reported that some posts are more difficult to fill because of this, most notably in three areas: scheduling and estimating, technical sales, and electronic locking and access control. 

“With scheduling and estimating, companies are naturally looking for the DipGAI level 3 diploma, and demand typically outstrips the supply of suitable candidates,” says Robinson. “It’s worth succession planning in those situations: offering training for existing staff, development programmes that build in-house skills. This is essential to drive up the level of competency in the industry. Many firms are seeking technical sales staff – someone who can sell and is highly technically competent so they can secure specification projects and influence end users. However, these people are rare: often you can find technical skills but not the sales expertise or the other way around. There is a shortage of both. 

Invest in training

It can be no coincidence that both the joint sponsors at the recent GAI Education Awards highlighted the role of education and training in addressing the growing skills shortage. 

Pete Hancox, managing director of Briton, in his speech at the event said: “The two most valuable assets in any business, are the brand, and most importantly, the people. The GAI’s educational programme is an integral part in our ongoing training and development plans and gives students the tools and knowledge to become true industry experts. 

“It’s really impressive to see in the room today, the level of investment made by the industry in training and developing people, but what is most impressive is the level of investment that each of you celebrating your achievements today, has made in yourselves. 

“While we as employers can facilitate your development, only you make it happen, and each of you has determined your own success and should be very proud of your achievements.”

Ed Smith, managing director of George Boyd, also stressed the importance of investing in skills and training. “The GAI is currently taking the pulse of the industry when it comes to skills, exploring where the expertise is and where the gaps are – and it’s perfectly timed as there is no denying that this is a critical time for all of us.

“In a world of generalists, how do we ensure that specialist skills are not only retained but respected and invested in? At a time of recession and sky-rocketing costs, how do we protect those with the most knowledge, who have been around the longest, from being let go and leaving the industry? More than ever this is a time when we all need to recognise the importance of investing in knowledge, within our own businesses and as a wider sector.”

Building professionalism

There is a vital need not only for companies to invest in training, but also for individuals to commit to developing their professional skills. The GAI has this year introduced the largest ever expansion of its education programme to assist the industry with building skills and professional competence as well as its development in 2023 of the CPD programme towards registered and certified status, including RegAI. “These initiatives emphasise that it’s not only training but maintaining and building the industry’s skill base that is even more essential for a future where competence at every level and every stage won’t be a ‘nice to have’, it will be a ‘must have’,” says Rachel Tipton, training and development manager at GAI. “Competence and demonstration of professionalism is something that every company will have to respond to, but also everyone working in the industry.”

See the survey results in the Winter 2022 digital edition

For more assistance with employee issues the GAI offers significant member benefits with the following specialists.

SFR Recruitment:

Quest Cover: questcover.com

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