Following his recent appointment as Chair of the Interim Industry Competence Committee, Jon Vanstone gives Total Installer his insights for the future of construction, and the possible implications for installers.
Besides his role as Chair of Certass Trade Association, where he can often be found offering guidance and advice to members online, via the organisation’s Facebook Forum, Jon Vanstone is a familiar face on various construction industry committees.
With involvement in the Competent Persons Forum (CPF), the National Home Improvement Council (NHIC) and the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) to name a few, the latest string to his bow is his recent appointment as Chair of HSE’s Interim Industry Competence Committee (IICC).
Set up to deliver advice on all competence-related matters in relation to the establishment of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), the IICC is an integral element in the Government’s efforts to make buildings safer for the people that inhabit them – and it’s this aspect that really struck a chord with Jon.
Reflecting on his reasons for taking up the new role, his motives are clear: “We want to know that when our children leave home, and they go off and live somewhere else, that they’re safe,” he says.
“Unfortunately, too often, people need to lose their life for things to change. But we’ve had that with Grenfell, and we’ve still got the inquiry going on, and the more that comes out about our industry, the more embarrassing it is to actually be part of that. And the more we have to say: ‘Okay, enough is enough’
As far as Jon is concerned, “pride in getting it right” is currently lacking, but he hopes that the “unified” approach from Government, in the form of the IICC, is a good start.
“The fact that four Government departments are working together on our new committee is a really good step up,” he says.
“Instead of it being just a BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) initiative, like the Green Homes Grant for example, this committee is being led by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) but BEIS, MHCLG and the Home Office are all involved. And they all play a role.”
While Jon maintains that his appointment to the IICC bears “no direct correlation” to his involvement with installers, he believes there are certainly “positives from the installer’s perspective”.
Appointed on the basis of “trying to help enact change” in the construction sector as a whole, Jon can use his links with the installer community to help ensure the viability of any future developments.
“I have a fair understanding of installers and the pressures on them,” he says. “I speak to a lot of [installers] on a regular basis, in forums and in meetings, which has given me a really good insight into their pressures. And I suppose, at least, I can try and make sure that nothing is brought in that the industry can’t deal with.”
With initiatives such as the IICC and the BSR being potential catalysts for change in the wider construction industry, what, exactly, could this mean for installers in the fenestration sector?
Whatever is coming, Jon assures Certass installers that the transition will be as smooth as possible: “From a Certass Trade Association perspective,” he says, “we’re obviously going to be paying as much attention as we can to the direction of travel, to make sure that local installers can see any changes coming.
“We’ll slowly implement change, so by the time anything new comes in, [Certass installers] don’t actually need to do much, because they’re already doing it without realising. That’s the job of trade associations. Not just to say: ‘This is coming, good luck’. It’s actually saying to members: ‘Don’t worry about it… we’re working on it…’ and slowly feeding any changes over time.”
While it’s clear that Certass Trade Association members will be well-prepared for any future changes, a shake-up of competence-related matters will pose an issue for those in the wider market that may be operating less diligently, according to Jon.
For those that want to “cut corners”, he hopes that future developments will “make it harder for them”, eventually making rule-bending behaviour, or worse, “a thing of the past”.
“If to be deemed competent, you have to be annually assessed,” he says, “and you’re not, because you’ve just been living off an old qualification – suddenly you’ve got to prove yourself a bit more.”
Referring to those businesses with “a very high return-to-site ratio”, who “do jobs as quickly as they can, move on to the next one and go back and fix it when the consumer complains”, the message from Jon is clear:
“It is your job is to get it right first time; not to get it right eventually”, and for this reason, “businesses that are designed with rapid fit teams, and a very decent repair team that goes around afterwards and fixes all the problems, won’t be in the right territory.
“Also, if a company that operates that way suddenly goes out of business, they leave a lot of work that is not good enough. So, we have to make sure that structurally, such activities [are not] so prosperous.”
Summing up on the matter, Jon says: “I think it depends what type of business you are. If you’re there to install as quickly as possible, no matter what the consequences, I think you will hit a wall at some point.
“Fundamentally, the message to construction is: We have to be doing a lot better… We have to be making sure that the people on-site know what they’re doing; know about the environment in which they’re working; about the risks of fire and structure and having an appreciation for other trades…
Calling for a more collaborative approach to the construction process, Jon says: “[We] need to get construction working together. We need to get that pride back into the industry.”
And it’s this lack of pride that is currently ‘failing’ the fenestration sector particularly, according to Jon. “We don’t make the job of being a glazier, or a glazing installer something that people are proud to say they do,” he says.
“And I think that’s where we have a problem. We’ve got a history of some poor work being done and [in some cases] it’s still being done, and we’ve got to stop this happening, because one company can actually ruin it for everyone else. And the certification bodies and those that do accreditation or inspections need to make sure that we [clamp] down on that.”
Making it easier for installers to do things ‘right’, as opposed to focussing time and effort on the rogues, is a high priority for Jon. “A lot [of installers] just want to do it right first time and they want to learn, but you have to make sure you help them.”
Suggesting that too much energy has been spent worrying about those companies determined to flout the rules in the past, Jon says: “We’re not interested in helping [those companies who want to bend the rules]. “If you don’t want to play the game, then we just want to make life a bit more awkward for you… and make it harder for you to trade.”
According to Jon, it’s this unscrupulous minority that have sullied the industry’s reputation, which has, in turn, led to problems attracting new people into the sector, “so we have to make that all change,” he says.
And while change is often resisted, Jon indicates that this time, it’s inevitable:
“I think government will not put up with us holding on to the past and saying, ‘it’s too difficult’, or ‘we can’t do it’, because if we can’t make safe buildings, what’s the point of our industry? I think we we’ve run out of excuses, haven’t we?
“I think one of the problems, in the UK, is we’ve had an industry driven by price. And yet we want standards, and we want quality of work, and we want all these positive things. They don’t go hand in hand.
“And our history of trading and giving contracts to those who do it cheapest has put us in a position where we need to unlearn that. And it’s going to be tough.
“But we need to step up. We need to take pride in getting it right.
“We have to deliver buildings that people feel safe to live in – and it’s something we have to do critically fast.”