Relieving Serious Labor Pains

Sam Warwick, Bryan Zolfo, Glenn Brody, Jeff Cannata, Tom Trzcinski and Jeani Lee all share a similar good news-bad news dichotomy that's, sadly, far too familiar to many businesses in the kitchen and bath industry these days.

All of them either own, manage or are employed at kitchen and bath design firms. All are fully engaged in an industry that they find exciting, fashion-oriented, multi-faceted and growth-oriented. All report that their company has plenty of projects in the pipeline a gratifying by-product of a strong economy and continued surge in high-end remodeling.

So much for the good news.

The bad news, unfortunately, is that at least partly due to the current construction boom and high employment levels all of them have experienced a vexing labor shortage that seems to hang, like a noxious cloud, over much of the construction industry.

This dilemma only starts with the companies' efforts to sift through a dearth of qualified job applicants in search of help on the design, drafting, administrative, sales and subcontracting ends of the business. It extends far beyond simply finding new employees to such related issues as meeting those workers' salary demands . . . training new people . . . keeping workers motivated . . . and, lastly, retaining employees once they're fully up to speed.

As the story on Page 62 notes, it's a problem that's become so acute in some regions that it's causing some design/remodeling firms to either turn down work, take on more than they can handle, or spend far too much time engaged in an unending and often hopeless scramble to find employees competent enough to handle existing projects.

A ray of sunshine, however, may be on the horizon. For one thing, many employers are demonstrating that, over time, they're developing a number of methods for coping with existing labor shortages. These approaches range from effective networking and the implementation of internship programs to outsourcing design services and creating attractive new benefits packages.

It's also encouraging to note that help may be on the way when it comes to addressing some key industry-related training issues.

For example, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) reports that it is rolling out a "Certified Kitchen and Bath Planner" program, aimed at focusing on non-design, business management issues that NARI terms the "nuts and bolts" of operating a kitchen and bath remodeling firm.

And, in a separate development, the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) recently formed a trio of ad hoc committees directly tied to the issue of industry training.

One of them a "Career Development Committee" is responsible for devising a clear, defined career path for kitchen and bath industry professionals, including programs and additional certifications up to and beyond the CKD and CBD.

As the NKBA noted in creating the committees, the kitchen and bath industry has become so varied and so vast that reaching NKBA's certification level may well be too much for some industry professionals who are just starting out, and not challenging enough for veteran professionals. By examining the true career development of kitchen and bath industry professionals, the new committee will be able to recommend if the NKBA should implement other levels of certification, allowing the association to educationally service all aspects of the industry.

These kind of educational initiatives are most encouraging particularly in light of the ongoing shortage of well-trained employees.

The industry must do whatever it can to help design/remodeling firms attract, hire and continue to develop people who are competent, caring and qualified enough to meet the demands of a consumer who won't settle for anything less than the best, and a vibrant market whose growth is still seemingly unlimited.