The results of an extensive study of the interiors sector, funded by CITB and led by FPDC working in partnership the Association of Interior Specialists (AIS) and the National Association of Shopfitters (NAS) is helping to establish how tradesmen in the interiors sector gain skills and qualifications. Dr Karin Stockerl unveils some initial findings.

A recent survey of site dry and wet trade operatives in the interiors sector has been conducted as part of an interiors training review which aims to examine and explore training needs in the sector.

The initial results suggest that there are relatively low numbers of new entrantscoming into the sector. No more than five per cent of operatives in any age group entered the industry in the last 12 months. At the other end of the scale more than three quarters of those aged 51 and over have already spent at least 20 years working in the sector.

It’s not unusual for tradesmen to hold multiple job roles across the sector; almost half of operatives (45 per cent) work across two to five interiors trades and can therefore be considered multi-skilled. However, while just under two in 10 (16 per cent) operatives in the wet construction trades are multi-skilled in between two and four interiors trades, a much higher proportion (two-thirds – 66 per cent) of operatives in the dry trades are multi-skilled.

There may be evidence to suggest the workforce is ageing; over a third of survey respondents are aged 41 or above and just over one in ten are aged 51 or over. And a higher proportion of older operatives work in wet construction compared to those in the dry trades.

These results suggest wet construction operatives continue working in the sector longer than in dry construction. The proportion of wet construction operatives with over 20 years’ experience (46 per cent) is over three times higher than the comparable figure for operatives in the dry trades.

There appears to be a recent lack of new entrants into the sector; less than one per cent of respondents are aged 16-19, while only six per cent have been working in the sector for fewer than two years and no more than five per cent in any age group entered in the last 12 months.

Operatives tend to remain in their jobs for a long period of time and gain experience as they progress. Well over three-quarters have at least five years’ experience of working in the industry and more than a quarter have worked in the industry for over 20 years. In addition, almost half hold Blue Skilled Worker CSCS cards.

Wet trades such as plastering and fibrous plastering, screeding and rendering are far more likely to be located in England but outside London than dry trades. The proportion of operatives who work in dry trades is distributed fairly evenly both within and outside London, however, in the wet trades the vast majority of operatives are based outside the capital

A high proportion of foreign labour is recorded in the survey with more than a fifth of respondents being non- British. A higher proportion of non-British operatives work in dry trades, such as drylining, ceiling fixing/fitting and partitioning, than in wet trades such as plastering.

Over a third of operatives who entered the sector from a previous construction role did so after being employed as general labourers, with just under one in ten entering from a carpentry and joinery position.

The survey results suggest operatives in a wide range of construction sectors move to work in the interiors sector, with approximately 28 per cent of these becoming competent as a result of accredited training such as college training or an apprenticeship.

Most operatives learn their trade on-the-job – almost three times as many as have become competent after completing accredited training such as an apprenticeship.

Accredited training is the route to competence for a far higher proportion of wet construction operatives as opposed to those working in dry trades. More than a third (39 per cent) of wet construction operatives have become competent as a result of accredited training, compared to only 14 per cent of those in the dry trades.

The survey indicates that very few operatives have become competent as a result of manufacturer training. Almost half the respondents surveyed hold an NVQ; however of those who do not, almost half are uninterested in gaining one in future.

The proportion of operatives with qualifications in management and supervision is very low (less than one per cent), while more than one in 10 said they would find this type of training useful for their careers.

Operatives in the wet trades and those with less than a year’s experience are most likely not to have any CSCS cards. However, a relatively high proportion of operatives with over twenty years’ experience also report holding no CSCS cards (27.9 per cent). Of these, 77 per cent are plasterers. This supports the view that individuals in the wet trades are less likely to hold CSCS cards than those working in the dry trades.

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