Rebecca Mason with the second-placed Jewson team and Roger Havis.
Builders’ merchants rise to the challenge
Published: 17 December, 2010
It has been a couple of years since the Institute of Builders’ Merchants (IoBM) last ran an event like the Practical Skills Challenge Event held at the beginning of October and Lynn Sencicle went to see what it was all about.
The principle aim of the IoBM day was to help merchants learn about the products they sell in a fun and engaging way. Suppliers such as Hanson, Ancon, ACO, Sika and Knauf Insulation were keen to show support with the supply of materials, while Lafarge, ITP, Uponor and Ideal Standard went further, supporting the event with stands inviting the merchants to talk directly with them.
And, the take-up by merchants was so oversubscribed, that there could well be another event in the spring of 2010.
“This has gone so much better than I expected,” said president of the IoBM, Rebecca Mason. “I’m amazed at the level of support – all I had to do was ask, and people were so enthusiastic.
“Hopefully, what the merchants take away from this day will impact on their sales, because they will be able to give better advice to the customer.”
The range of people from the merchants was wide, from apprentices to branch managers, with an equally wide range of experience. There were those who were confident that they already knew everything they needed, while others had never even picked up a hammer or a drill.
The event took place at Cambridge Regional College (CRC), in the SmartLife sustainable skills centre, of which Ridgeon Group chairman Anne Ridgeon is a governer. “It’s good to see an educational establishment come together with Industry to provide an event such as this," she commented. "Everyone has obviously enjoyed today and it is evident from talking to the attendees that it has helped their understanding of where and how our products can be used.”
Overseen and judged by Roger Havis, SmartLife’s technical officer, the merchants’ teams were given plans for a timber frame structure with a window and a door.
They had to build the basic structure and install items such as OSB, plasterboard, copper piping and brick cladding.
The teams were not solely judged on who completed the most of the task, but on a number of criteria, health and safety being paramount. After that was the quality of the structure, the accuracy of the apertures, as well as the quality of joints, fixings and sheet materials.
Something that was not judged, but quickly became clear was a sense of teamwork. “We’ve got a lot of people working in here,” commented Mr Havis. “And I’m really impressed with how well they are all working together.” All of the teams had people from different branches which created a networking event as much as a learning event, with some teams were even helping other teams when they got stuck.
Vickie Mather, group training manager – operations, at Travis Perkins, commented: “This is absolutely fantastic and there’s a good atmosphere. It’s really engaging the sales team, and promoting teamwork and just having a go. It’s good to learn the products in a practical way, and some are able to contribute specific skills they have, like carpentry, for example.”
“Learning to read the plans,” was the hardest part of the challenge according to the Ridgeons, EH Smith and Parkers teams. Mark Bates of Parkers went on to clarify: “It’s working out what quantities you really need that’s difficult.”
There was a variety of opinions on what each person would take away from the event, ranging from blisters and bruises, through to practical knowledge such as how to nail properly, to more deep and meaningful experiences: the Jewson team experienced a lesson in trusting themselves and their own knowledge when the team next door took a different – and less effective – route to the tasks.
Some found new ambition in the learning curve: “I can empathise with the tradesmen now,” said Karl Dean from Wickes, “especially when things don’t fit, and I’m going to manage quality issues in future.”
In observing the proceedings, it was evident that making parts fit was an issue that cropped up in a number of cases, which did not deter participants, instead inspiring creative and innovative solutions and interestingly unique carpentry techniques being applied to plasterboard and OSB.
But in the end, all the teams did remarkably well. “All things considered, I cannot believe how accurate their dimensions were,” commented Mr Havis. “It was excellent work.”
This article first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Builders' Merchants News.