With the industry experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, it is more important than ever to find ways to ensure the next generation of roofers are adequately prepared. For the first of our three-part series with CUPA PIZARRAS, we caught up with Hannah Wall, UK Marketing Manager, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s college sponsorship and the wider industry.
TC: Hi Hannah, first of all, could you tell us about the CUPA PIZARRAS college sponsorship programme and what it entails?
HW: We currently have six colleges within our scheme that we have pledged to support: South Devon College, Leeds College of Building, Newcastle College, Edinburgh College, Dundee and Angus College and finally Bolton College, which was added this academic year. Together, they are some of the UK’s top construction and/or roofing colleges and were initially recommended to us by the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) for the outstanding achievements of their students.
A key part of our sponsorship includes the presentation of our RIBA-approved CPD on Specifying Natural Roofing Slate to the colleges. This CPD covers everything a construction professional needs to know about natural slate, from the production process to installation and the necessary standards and testing to look out for. We also provide pallets of free slate to the colleges for use during training as well as a goodie bag for every student.
In addition, at the end of the academic year, we give four students from each college the chance to win a trip to Northern Spain to visit CUPA PIZARRAS’ headquarters, quarries and processing plants, along with their lecturers. This is an opportunity for those who have excelled during their training to see the entire process from beginning to end and understand what it takes to produce high quality slate – an incredible opportunity for them.
Despite the pandemic, we are determined to support the colleges and their students the best we can, which is why we have continued to provide technical guides and online resources. The sponsorship not only provides encouragement to the young roofing apprentices, but also broadens their opportunity to learn in-depth about slate.
Why is the college sponsorship programme important and what opportunities does it offer students?
The college sponsorship ensures that the students have a supply of quality products to work and practice with for real-world applications. As a manufacturer in the roofing industry, we understand the importance of excellent craftsmanship and are delighted to have the opportunity to encourage the younger generation to develop an interest in the craft. Slate is almost a roofing discipline in itself, requiring a different skill set than other artificial products.
Through our CPDs, the students are also able to benefit from technical knowledge, such as the importance of selecting a high-quality slate from a reputable supplier and the value of standards and traceability in the specification of slate. In addition, the opportunity to win the trip with us to Spain provides added motivation for them to succeed in their studies.
How has COVID-19 impacted on the college sponsorship programme over the past year and how have the colleges adapted?
The past year has been difficult for many of the colleges as social distancing measures have reduced the hands-on element of the college training that is so key to their progression. However, the students can still continue to learn through online seminars and through their onsite training with their employer.
It is unfortunate that they have had reduced time at college, so we wanted to make more resources available to them. We have provided a number of YouTube videos covering our full production process as well as technical guides so that they can still learn as much as they can even if they are not physically at their college.
How has CUPA PIZARRAS adapted to ensure the sponsorship can still go ahead, and the students can continue to benefit?
Despite these challenging times, we tried to continue the original scheme as best we could. Although the apprentices from the September 2019 to August 2020 academic year were unable to have a trip to Spain, we ensured that all the colleges received their free of charge slate pallets and gift bags. Prior to COVID-19, we were also able to hold a number of face-to-face CPDs, and later on in the year we delivered personalised achievement awards to each of the colleges to be presented when the students were able to meet in person.
For the current academic year, we have already prepared their gift bags and the slate is being sent over as soon as the colleges reopen. In addition, we have given all of the colleges as many resources as possible to help with online learning, including the delivery of online CPD by our Specification Managers and also our on-demand CPD is now available to watch online at their leisure. We’ve been really pleased with the take up of this – it’s been brilliant.
When we look at the roofing industry as a whole, how do you feel it has been impacted by COVID-19?
We are very fortunate that despite the circumstances the roofing industry, like the wider construction sector, continues to operate. However, the combination of COVID-19 and Brexit has clearly had an impact, with the industry now seeing long delivery delays especially with roof tiles, insulation and battens. In addition, many manufacturing facilities have been unable to return to their pre-pandemic output, which has caused on-going project scheduling issues. Despite all this, the construction sector is resilient, and we will bounce back.
Has CUPA PIZARRAS seen any changes with its operations and customers as a result? If so, how has the company adapted?
In line with government regulations, our operations in Spain have changed to ensure the safety of all employees during the production process. While we do have available stock of the core UK sizes, certain ranges of popular selections and sizes have faced increased demand during this unprecedented time. With the number of renovation and new build projects going ahead, overall CUPA PIZARRAS are producing slates at a higher rate than ever.In the UK, all of our area and specification managers have continued meeting with customers and delivering our CPDs online. Our team of area managers are also working closely with both production in Spain and their merchant customers to coordinate orders based on readily available sizes, keeping the line of communication clear and constant so that we can serve all our customers as best we can.