The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once famously told a reporter in 2002 that there are “known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know". This statement is as true for construction as it is for military intelligence, especially at a time when the sector is going through rapid and potentially transformational change.
That change is acutely felt within the roofing industry, which faces some fundamental challenges around recruitment, skills and competency that directly impact quality and safety, both of which have come under intense public scrutiny following the Grenfell tragedy.
To be blunt, we are struggling like many other trades to recruit new talent to replace an ageing workforce of roofing installers whose average age is around 50 to 55 years old. Most of these operatives are very good at what they do, having had years of experience gained on the job; nevertheless, Standards evolve, and unless contractors are actively keeping up, the best-practice learned 25 years ago may no longer apply – you don’t know, what you don’t know.
Part of the issue is a lack of consistency in training provision around the UK that sometimes forces contractors to send their operatives across the country to get the training they need. For micro-businesses and SMEs, which make up the majority of contracting companies, time taken to keep up training, is time away from potential earnings. These were two of the key findings research that the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) and the CITB carried out in 2016. Based on a surveys and in-depth interviews with 141 UK roofing contractors, 11 training organisations, 11 manufacturers and over 150 other stakeholders, the subsequent report found that roofing installers were less qualified than many other construction roles.
This research underpins the RoofCERT accreditation scheme, which is currently undergoing an extensive pilot phase, and which has received over 300 pledges of support from across the industry. There is now widespread recognition that accreditation for individual roofers is needed to professionalise the industry by enabling existing operatives to maintain their technical knowledge and competencies on a three-yearly cycle. By doing this, RoofCERT, which is managed by the NFRC, not only gives the customer and employer the confidence that an Accredited Roofer is competent to deliver a job properly, but also enables the operative to develop a lifelong career path.
What does this mean for manufacturers and suppliers? Well, the likes of BMI see the benefit of RoofCERT, because when all is said and done, a product that has taken tens of thousands of pounds to develop, is only as good as the operative installing it. Incorrect installation is not only costly to put right but is bad for reputation.
So, aside from driving out those unskilled rogue traders who give roofers a bad name, RoofCERT is very much about giving individual operatives the confidence to take personal responsibility on site; it’s ultimately about changing behaviours, which is something highlighted in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety into what went wrong at Grenfell Tower.
We also want to be in a position where Accredited Roofers are able to educate specifiers. Let’s take the example of a housebuilder or main contractor that has specified incorrect materials. Even when the roofer arrives on site is aware of this has happened, they will often simply go ahead and start the job anyway. Ideally, the roofing contractor should be asking for the right materials to ensure the work meets the appropriate British Standards and avoids costly failures down the line.
This aspiration extends to merchants, because just as a product is only as good as the person installing it, so too a merchant is only really as good as the person behind the counter. The NFRC already works closely with the Builders Merchants Federation, to equip their members with knowledge about the latest standards and best practice, but roofers should be on the front line, asking counter staff for the correct materials for the job.
RoofCERT then, is not only a vehicle to upskill roofers but a chance to educate the whole supply chain so that together we can start reducing the known and unknown unknowns.
Go to www.roofcert.co.uk to learn more about the accreditation scheme and register your details for accreditation.