Steve Coley, the FIS president, spoke to industry leaders at last month’s FIS President’s Lunch. He looked back on a career spanning more than a quarter of a century and reflected on change, the loss of traditional skills and the desire to leave a legacy for the next generation of finishes  and interiors sector businesses.

History is littered with examples of misunderstanding between clients, designers and contractors but today we have BIM, Building Information Modelling. Is it the future? What’s certain is that it’s happening and like anything that relates to change within our sector, we all object and protest. Because we don’t like change.

Back in 1988 when I left school and started installing suspended ceilings, I turned up for my first night shift. I had my trainers on, I wasn’t given a site induction, and nobody was wearing hats, safety boots or a hi-vis vest. Fast-forward 27 years and health and safety has transformed the way we conduct ourselves.

In today’s world of construction the only interaction the majority of us have with BIM is probably downloading drawings from 4 Projects. But what will it look like in another 27 years’ time? Will your site foreman have his iPad on a scissor lift, marking out all the apertures for the services before the mechanical and electrical subcontractors start on-site? Maybe.

If you gave your foreman an iPad today it would probably be used as a tray to get the coffees in. Or slipped under the leg of a wobbly table in the beer garden! But be aware, change is coming. Change will happen. Embrace it, evolve with it and make it work for you.

Five thousand years ago the Egyptians built huge burial chambers within the pyramids. The construction was perfectly symmetrical, perfectly level, walls were straight and plumb and the plasterwork was of such an excellent standard that the detailed hieroglyphics are still visible and in perfect condition. This was well before handheld lasers, battery collated drywall guns or 110volt paddles for whisking up a bag of high-tech multi-finish. The question is, without all of today’s modern technology, how did the Egyptians obtain such a level of finish, even at a time when they didn’t have the CITB?

We’ve all experienced jobs where you’re asked to build something out of materials that need the walls, roof and floor to be reasonably complete. Understanding how each trade operates and the sequence that works need to be carried out in to successfully complete a project is critical. All too often some site management teams lack this understanding.

When I first started out on-site we’d install a ceiling with a water level and you’d set the ceiling out on the floor with a 3 x 4 x 5 square and then plumb it up to a string line.

Your site foreman was either a time-served carpenter or brickie. They knew how to read a drawing and they understood sequence because they were time-served. We now have newly qualified graduates, fresh out of university becoming site managers with zero site experience.

It’s not just specialist contractors that need more skilled operatives, it’s right through the industry. Without intelligent, enthusiastic youngsters to learn through experience, main contractors won’t get the time-served site managers who then develop into project managers who actually know what’s what and what’s not!

At a recent careers day at my son’s school there were representatives from the armed forces, the emergency services and the NHS. Advice was available for careers in banking, journalism, accountancy, physiotherapy and massage – everything. That is ‘everything’ except construction.

How disappointing that we have no representation within the school environment. I suppose schools and colleges want bigger and better prospects for their students and may not perceive construction as a career with prospects. The irony being that a tradesman can earn significantly more than the majority of the careers mentioned.

If we’re to attract more students we need to make our industry the professional ‘sector’ it deserves. Few people in our sector started by saying “I’m going to work in the finishes and interiors sector.” For those of us who have had success, would it not be great if we could give something back to our sector and create a legacy for the next generation by creating a true career path into the finishes and interiors sector.


Steve Coley
FIS president


If you want to get involved and bring new entrants into the finishes and interiors sector, contact David Frise, FIS chief executive, on either 0121 707 0077 or