By Richard Bostock, Social Housing Business Director at Avonside Group.
As the recently appointed Social Housing Business Director for Avonside Group, Richard Bostock says he is looking forward to contributing towards his business’ strategic long-term growth, however, he is also acutely aware of the challenges and difficulties the roofing industry currently faces.
As Richard points out, the challenges arrive from many angles, be it lack of materials, increasing cost base, Brexit uncertainties, environmental issues and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted everyone’s working life. Below he discusses these in more detail and gives his perspective on where the sector stands:
Best availability vs best choice for the client
“Dealing with the lack of materials, it’s true to say that since the middle of 2019 the extended lead time for roof tiles and components has probably been the biggest single factor affecting every Roofing Contractor in the UK. With lead times at an unprecedented high, Contractors are now having to order product several months in advance – and often selecting tiles on the basis of best availability. This may not be the best tile for the Client, but particularly in the social re-roofing market there are budgets to expend, and very often a compromise on tile is the only way to achieve this. We are currently starting to see shortages creeping into other supply chains such as batten and membranes, which only contributes to the difficulties Contractors face on a daily basis.
“Inevitably, the squeeze on material supply has led to robust price increase demands, and organisations are having to deal with some very awkward questions with Clients just to ensure supply is maintained and margins do not erode.”
Continued investment in apprenticeship and training is essential
“As ever, maintaining a core of qualified and skilled labour remains a challenge, and investment in apprenticeships and training has never been as important. After a period of uncertainty and change like most of us have never before experienced, many companies might be tempted to reduce or re-allocate budgets given to this area, however it is now more important than ever that we invest in our future workforce and equip them with the skills they need to deliver high quality roofing well into the future.
“Many roofing businesses, particularly those that operate in the re-roofing market, will be aware of their impact on the environment, particularly their obligations towards protected wildlife species whilst undertaking their work. The penalties for breaking the laws covering protected species are high and wide reaching, and Contractors need to remain vigilant and ensure their Operatives on the roof are also aware of their own actions.”
“It’s unlikely that anyone has escaped the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, either personally or in their working life. Many of us have now become used to working remotely, often whilst caring for youngsters, and operating within social distancing guidelines when we are able to meet in person. Although there are benefits to the virtual platforms that many of us now use on a daily basis, the impact on a business in having a largely remote workforce is significant and can bring a lack of cohesion that can affect innovation, training and morale in the longer term. The strength of any business lies in its people and safeguarding the health of our workforces remains our number one priority, and presents challenges to Managers daily, dealing with safe working practices, staff shortages and potential outbreaks.”
“To conclude on a positive note, the UK now has a vaccine rollout in full swing, and business levels remain solid. The roofing sector has faced challenges in the past 12 months that it could never have envisaged, however the survivors may have taken the opportunity to review their business, restructuring if necessary, to be better placed to take advantage of the opportunities ahead. With the country working towards its carbon reduction targets, there are exciting opportunities for the renewable energy sector including battery storage solutions, and we remain hopeful that the overall supply chain will strengthen, lead times will fall, and Contractors can return to operating within their more normal parameters during this year.
“Businesses – such as Avonside Group – that have been forward investing in key areas of skills development and targeted sectors will be better positioned to take advantage of future opportunities as they arise.”