Total Installer caught up with Lou Leka, the brains behind the industry training initiative Pro-Fitter, to discuss the benefits the company can offer to installers.
TI: Can you tell us about the Pro-Fitter initiative?
LL: Pro-Fitter was launched in late 2018 and is the official UK training provider of window, door and conservatory products. Until recently, there has been limited industry-recognised training providers for window, door and conservatory products which is the reasoning behind launching Pro-Fitter.
Many certifications exist in our industry, but none offer bespoke training that allow people to learn in a controlled environment and have their competency levels assessed. We are not another Competent Person Scheme. We are not a Vocational College. We teach hands-on skills and, in doing so, provide the lessons to give the ability and confidence to carry out specific work at our national training and certification centre.
Pro-Fitter status separates you from your peers and competitors and gives homeowners and businesses confidence in you.
TI: Is it a mixture of practical and classroom-based learning?
LL: Yes, it is. Our national training and certification centre offers full hands-on training courses for both complete novices and cross-sector tradespeople to help them enter into the window industry with the skills required to be successful. The centre is divided into bespoke zones that house an entire suite of products including PVC-U windows, doors, French doors and patio sliders; vertical sliding windows, composite and bi-folding doors; aluminium windows and doors; bay windows and conservatories; and warm roofs.
A masonry zone is also provided to demonstrate safe and clean removal of old windows, as well as varied concrete cills and cavity wall window/door fittings.
A good example of why our hands-on training element is so crucial is to compare it with a driving examination. Simply completing a theory test does not mean you are competent to drive and gain a driving licence! A number of practical lessons are required prior to an end examination. Pro-Fitter provides the lessons to give you the ability and confidence to carry out specific work, just as you would behind the wheel of a car.
In short, the Pro-Fitter training programme is a ‘one-stop-shop’ for both practical fenestration training including classroom-based assessments.
TI: What systems does the training cover?
LL: Pro-Fitter is a GQA-accredited and recognised training centre and a CITB-recognised training organisation that is supported by some of the biggest names in the industry including Epwin Windows Systems’ Excellence as Standard, Eurocell, Spectus, AluK, Würth Group, Synseal and Hurst Plastics. Plus, certain elements of the Pro-Fitter Assessments fulfil NVQ requirements to enable direct progression onto NVQ courses from external providers.
TI: What different courses are available?
LL: There are numerous course options that are tailored for the novice through to the advanced installer.
The first are complete training sessions, which range from basic courses for new starters within the industry and progressing to further courses that offer candidates the ability to either move onto further product training, if they have gained the basic skills, or if they are experienced Window / Door Fitters who may wish to progress onto fitting other products within the industry
The second element is to allow experienced installers to prove, under guidance, that they meet the criteria of a Pro-Fitter by attending a condensed certification course which covers multiple products.
Competency levels are assessed by industry professionals as part of the programme and installers can take their knowledge one step further with NVQ qualification from an external provider.
On successful completion of a training course, each Pro-Fitter will be registered on both our directory as well as the GQA directory. The certified Pro-Fitter will also obtain a GQA certificate and photo ID card.
As Pro-Fitter courses are ‘GRADED’ from A through to E, the benefit of both databases allows a homeowner or business to confirm that they have the appropriate grade of Pro-Fitter either working for their business or installing their product.
TI: What are some of the key issues that the courses help overcome – are there any areas that seem to catch a lot of installers out?
LL: The Fenestration industry offers a number of ‘Competent Person Schemes’ (CPS). Each operate across a similar platform, i.e. assessing businesses and allowing them to self-certify their installations. A CPS generally inspects a handful of onsite installations and then asks you to pay to gain an ‘MTC’ card. An MTC card is not an industry mandatory requirement.
NVQs are a great way of confirming a window fitters’ academic ability along with moderate onsite assessments. NVQs are widely promoted across the fenestration and construction industries and generally recognised as a standard to achieve. Certain Pro-Fitter grades also fulfil NVQ requirements, allowing installers to directly progress onto direct NVQ courses from external providers.
TI: It’s an extremely competitive market currently, is Pro-Fitter a way for installers to differentiate themselves, and if so, how does it do this?
LL: Absolutely it is. As mentioned earlier, on successful completion of a training course, each Pro-Fitter will be registered on both our directory as well as the GQA directory. The certified Pro-Fitter will also obtain a GQA certificate and photo ID card. Pro-Fitter status gives a true competitive advantage. Installers will be able to prove their expertise more easily. They’ll also have a point of difference when marketing to homeowners, especially because up to 80% of our annual marketing spend is directed at the consumer, with the clear message of the benefits of choosing a Pro-Fitter registered installer.
TI: Is the homeowner more knowledgeable today when it comes to products and materials installed on their property, and if so, how have their expectations changed when it comes to installers and tradespeople?
LL: Homeowners today are far more well-informed than they were. And replacement windows, doors and conservatories are still considered big-ticket items for today’s consumer. With the market choice of products available today, installers are under pressure to offer quality at every level, and that comes down to the installation of the products too. Consumers want confidence and need to know that their installer is both trustworthy and, as importantly, is a competent, trained person who will deliver an excellent job from start to finish. By proving that you are a Pro-Fitter you are offering the consumer another level of reassurance to give them the confidence they need to help secure the sale.
TI: What are some of the key challenges that the installer faces today?
LL: The market is extremely competitive and product differentiation has become much harder to achieve with most installers having a portfolio of “me-too” products. Pro-Fitter status allows you to offer something over the competition as well as gaining access to homeowner enquiries for new product installations.
TI: Do you feel the glazing sector is slowly changing some of the outdated perceptions the public might have of it? Initiatives like Pro-Fitter must go some way to help doing this…
LL: The fenestration industry’s reputation has improved dramatically over the last few years, however, there is a lingering suspicion at the consumer level of the pedigree and quality of the installation. A Pro-Fitter trained installer can combat that concern as they can show the level of training they have undergone and offer the reassurance today’s consumers demand.
TI: What would your message be to installers who feel they don’t have enough time for training and don’t need the support of initiatives like Pro-Fitter?
LL: The growing skills gap is one of the biggest challenges the industry faces over the coming years. The launch of Pro-Fitter gives installation companies the solution they need to address the gap and gain a competitive advantage.
We help businesses across the UK secure bigger contracts by ensuring that their products and service are proven to be the best. Having a Pro-Fitter rated fitting team really does promote assurance and stability within our industry.