Delegates at the annual FIS Conference, held at Worsley Park Marriott Hotel and Country Club in Manchester this month, experienced a packed agenda including keynote speeches, panel discussions and workshop sessions around the important theme Growing Your Business in a Changing Market.

The next 12 months are going to be challenging as the fallout from Grenfell Tower tragedy, the collapse of Carillion and Brexit continue to impact on the finishes and interiors sector. The FIS Conference provided an ideal platform for FIS members to exchange views and experiences and debate how these factors are driving change within the sector and how they might impact their businesses.

FIS president Andrew Smith welcomed delegates and explained how FIS is committed to raising standards across a range of issues affecting safety, performance and skills development. FIS has been particularly successful with boosting awareness and understanding about careers in the finishes and interiors sector and it is driving a campaign to increase skills competence and attract new entrants in the sector.

Iain McIlwee, FIS chief executive, then set the scene for an informative and engaging Conference programme.

A key part of this programme were six interactive workshop sessions providing delegates with best practice guidance and advice to support their businesses in a challenging and changing market. These breakout sessions covered Technical, Skills and Community themes, with delegates attending two from the six available.

Technology in Construction Workshop 1

Paper to Data: How to maximise technology to deliver more profitable projects

Speakers: Barry Chapman and Sarah Crawford, Chalkstring; Richard Hulbert, Trappco; and Joe Cilia, FIS technical director

FIS members learnt more about how technology can support both successful project delivery and business management. The workshop simplified jargon while exploring how digital working can improve efficiency and compliance, reduce waste and increase profitability, with a focus on helping delegates establish how technology could work better for them. It also explored the biggest pitfalls subcontractors can experience when going digital, detailing what to avoid when considering new software solutions and implementing new processes, and which software is right for which type of business, incorporating a high-level review of solutions available to subcontractors.

Technology in Construction Workshop 2

Product, Process, People (PPP): A focus on competency and compliance

Speakers: Paul Nagle, Donseed; Michael Saunders, Re-flow; and Joe Cilia, FIS technical director

The strategic Product, Process, People (PPP) initiative has been developed by FIS over the last 12 months to address Dame Judith Hackitt’s comments regarding a lack of evidence of what is being built, a lack of compliance and a lack of competency of construction sector operatives. FIS members were shown how this process could be integrated into existing management software to help the fit-out sector take control of its asset management, process controls and compliance. The session also included an understanding of how to use software to record operatives’ training and qualifications against individual projects while managing the workforce.

FIS Skills Workshop 1

How to maximise your CITB and Apprenticeship Levy

Speakers: Michael Lennox, CITB; Helen Yeulet, FIS skills delivery director; and Amanda Scott, FIS sector skills engagement manager

Delegates were briefed about the new CITB Grants Scheme and the Apprenticeship Levy. Following a change of rules in April 2018, this workshop helped FIS members to navigate the new Training Directory and the new ways that claims are now made. The workshop also identified how FIS members could maximise their Apprenticeship Levy and make it work for their business.

FIS Skills Workshop 2

How to get your return on investment on apprenticeships

Speakers: Jill Nicholls, Institute for Apprenticeships, and Helen Yeulet, FIS skills delivery director

The FIS Skills team explored the benefits for FIS members of taking on apprentices, in terms of both the positive impact on their business and the opportunity to future-proof their workforce. Delegates were also provided with an overview of the help and support available to them as employers to enable them to get the most out of taking on apprentices. This included information on funding, training and qualification grants available from the CITB and the Apprenticeship Levy to help with supporting and qualifying apprentices.

FIS Community Workshop 1

Ways to increase your profit in just one hour

Speakers: Maria Coulter, Construction Coach, and Iain McIlwee, FIS chief executive

This workshop focused on improving business performance. The interactive session encouraged delegates to set clear objectives: whether they wanted to grow or stay the same size; whether they wanted a better lifestyle for them and their families; and whether they have business areas that are wasting time and money but they aren’t sure how to tackle. This session helped to provide clarity and an action plan for businesses on how to move forward, improve profits and work towards having the lifestyle and balance they wanted.

FIS Community Workshop 2

Strategies to drive demand and increase sales

Speakers: Dave Rainbow, Results Agency, and Iain McIlwee, FIS chief executive.

During this workshop, delegates explored the topics of developing new business, lead creation, conversion and demand generation, focusing on the foundations of what businesses should consider before embarking on any marketing/sales activity and making sure objectives are aligned to any activity being undertaken. One key area of this workshop was helping delegates to select the correct tools with which to execute their strategy, with real examples given along with key tactics for them to employ in their organisations.

FIS chief executive Iain McIlwee concluded the Conference with a specially designed Room 101 Debate looking at the future of the finishes and interiors sector.

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