Editor: Carl, tell us about your first year as President. What have you been up to?
Carl Harper: It’s been busy, to say the least! I’ve been enjoying a mix of business and pleasure whilst networking with the council and our members. Over the last year or so, I’ve chaired four council meetings, and an AGM, and attended a couple of golf days, and recently, the CFA Autumn Ball at Slaley Hall in Northumberland.
Also on my plate, I’ve supported the CFA with some work not directly connected to my role as president but which I’m passionate about. For example, we have been having regular meetings to review the apprenticeship standard over the last 12 months.
Ed: What is the role of the CFA Council?
CH: The CFA Council, like any trade body council, has two main roles. There is our governance role, where we ensure the CFA is remaining true to its basic principles, specifically the articles, or constitution, where the purpose of the CFA is defined. This includes a regular review of the CFA’s finances to ensure all is in order.
The second area of activity is setting the top-level strategy for the association, including influencing and providing feedback on the association’s work supporting the members and the wider sector. Both areas refer to documents, such as a business plan that is presented and updated annually, a budget, management accounts and then full accounts, the latter being presented and approved at the AGM every year.
Finally, we are advocates of the CFA. Basically, promote what we do for the industry, shout about it and recruit new members. I have done quite a lot on that front, personally, over the last year.
Ed: What has the council been getting up to?
CH: One of our main roles for our members is to provide them with regular updates to ensure they understand implications of things like price rises, Brexit, and promoting the benefits that come from employing more people, training those individuals and providing them with a qualification.
In the first few months of my presidency, the CFA launched the 2022 version of the CFA Guide to Contract Flooring, which represents another huge area of influence, value and work that the CFA leads. We’ve also updated the technical standards and information.
Ed: And what are you currently focused on?
CH: Our highest profile project has been ‘Future Fitters’, our campaign to support the industry in developing more skilled labour to replace our ageing workforce as they retire – a copy of the brochure the CFA created can be found here.
Within our campaign, there are four main areas of focus:
Firstly, we have appointed STEM Ambassadors to visit schools and colleges (and, in my case, a prison) to speak about the opportunities in flooring. It’s well known that we need more apprentices in our industry, but there is also room for more mature entrants and those wishing to change career.
Then there’s encouraging localised training to create more opportunities for all of those listed above. Hands-on workshops, like F. Ball’s apprenticeship course at the F. Ball Centre of Excellence, is a great example.
We encourage contractors to take on more new entrants to the industry, communicating the benefits and assisting with ideas around structured training and qualifications.
Finally, we look at new ways to fund everything, continuously exploring options to finance these endeavours.
Ed: What do CFA members consult the CFA most on?
CH: Our CEO, Richard Catt, describes CFA membership like a cake: each year, a member’s cake will probably be made up of a number of things. Some slices are the same each year; things like use of the CFA logo and an entry in the CFA directory – both of which can bring work.
A member’s cake may also comprise a slice of our dispute resolution service with a free site report, the legal helpline, and, occasionally, a steer on technical matters. It varies from company to company and year to year, but the CFA always has help to offer.
Ed: Where do you think the flooring industry will be in 5-10 years’ time?
CH: If we are not careful, in a mess! The CFA has measured a skills gap of 19% for 2023, based on surveying our members. In other words, if we pumped 19% more fitters into the market overnight, they would all be gainfully employed.
Keeping the momentum is crucial, therefore the work the CFA is doing to promote skills and labour is hugely important and I am very pleased to see that Future Fitters is starting to show some results. More companies are investing in training their staff or offering training to the sector.
I also believe we need to move our sector forward in areas such as site conditions, technical advancements and innovation, not only for productivity (the government is very keen on that!), but also for sustainability – we must all take steps to reduce (and cease) sending material to landfill. Of course, this is something that requires support throughout the supply chain. This shouldn’t mean more administration, though, as I think the average contractor is drowning in paperwork and some of it, such as multiple pre-qualification questionnaires, is not the most efficient use of their time and money.
So, I hope we will be working more effectively with main contractors and builders with better managed sites, jobs starting on time, and clear, designated areas to work in, with lots of skilled labour. It might sound ambitious to some, but I’m sure most would agree: it is where we need to be heading.
It would also be perfect if all CFA members could be paid on time. Perhaps a change in relation to retentions is needed, too?
Ed: Finally, tell us something readers might be surprised to hear about you?
CH: I’m a Formula 1 fanatic and try to attend a few Grands Prix every year. This year, I’ve enjoyed Barcelona and Silverstone, and hopefully Abu Dhabi next month (if my other half allows me!). Pleasingly, we have just completed the flooring at the new F1 Arcade Bar in Birmingham, choosing F. Ball’s Stopgap Fill & Prime with Stopgap 700 for the subfloor preparation.