CHICAGO — The skilled-labor shortage that’s plaguing the residential construction trade is increasingly looming as a major concern for the kitchen and bath industry, with employers struggling to recruit, train and retain qualified workers, and employee workplace attitudes impacted dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic, the current job market and other societal trends.
Those are among the key findings of a nationwide survey conducted by Kitchen & Bath Design News in conjunction with its exclusive research partner, the Research Institute for Cooking and Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI). The online survey polled nearly 250 employers and employees at kitchen/bath dealerships, design/build remodeling firms and related businesses.
According to the survey’s findings, roughly seven in 10 kitchen and bath dealers who identified themselves as employers – either the sole person responsible for hiring or someone who is very involved in hiring – say that it’s either “extremely” or “very” difficult to find qualified employees compared to past years. In sharp contrast, a mere 5% of surveyed employers reported that finding qualified employees is either “not very difficult” or “not difficult at all.”
For nearly every employer polled, finding and retaining qualified employees and subcontractors ranks as the single-most pressing issue facing management – outranking such overarching concerns as supply chain disruptions, product/material price hikes, rising interest rates, a housing slowdown, and keeping up with both consumer demand and new technology.
To compound matters, more than half the employers surveyed say they foresee no palpable change in the status quo anytime soon – with 54% believing that the current labor shortage will persist into 2023 and beyond, another 5% saying that past hiring patterns will never return to normal, and 14% reporting they have “no idea” of what the employment picture will look like in the future.
The most difficult workers for kitchen/bath design firms to find these days are subcontractors, installers, and other field/support personnel (such as warehouse workers, delivery drivers and receptionists) followed by experienced designers and salespeople.
To help recruit qualified employees, half of the businesses surveyed say they are offering flexible work schedules and wages that above those of competitors. Three in ten are offering the ability to work remotely at least some of the time. A quarter of the employers polled say they offer training and educational opportunities as incentives for new hires.
While it’s difficult these days to recruit qualified employees, fewer than one in ten design firms surveyed also say it’s “extremely” or “very” difficult to retain those employees. To help in retainment efforts, most employers say they are making a concerted effort to show “appreciation” and “respect” to employees, encourage more input and feedback, and offer a range of similar intangibles. About half the surveyed companies report they are offering some type of financial incentive, such as bonuses and pay increases. Nearly half say they permit their employees to conduct work remotely at least some of the time.
Offering employees the ability to work remotely is also a practice that will apparently remain in effect into 2023 and beyond, employers report, adding that the most common ways businesses are supporting remote work are by conducting regular digital communications (such as Zoom meetings), making personal phone calls to remain in contact with remote employees, and offering administrative support such as printouts of contracts, sending client invoices and accepting product deliveries.
Nearly one-third of surveyed companies say that they offer their employees specific training on how to effectively work from remote locations, while 25% say they either offer resources to assist with mental and/or physical health or provide support to combat such issues as isolation and burnout.