(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the tiling industry
The construction industry as a whole generally enjoyed plentiful demand for its services between the late 1990s and the mid 2000s. There were some problems - skilled labour was hard to find and insurance costs rocketed for some - but a strong housing market and a growing economy meant there was generally plenty of work like tile fixing to go around. Home makeover shows encouraged home owners to spend money redecorating and improving, and people had plenty of money to pay for the services of skilled trades-people.
Unfortunately things came a bit unstuck during the late 2000s as the economy nose-dived and the housing market more or less collapsed. Many construction businesses were forced to lay off staff and it became a struggle for some to find enough new work. The economy and the housing market stayed very weak throughout the early 2010s, but things began to improve during the second half of 2013 and 2014 was a much better year for many.
The recovery in the construction industry continued strongly into the first half of 2015 due to wages going up, low interest rates, falling oil prices and people's confidence in their employment. This produced the longest period of sustained growth since the financial crisis, with uninterrupted growth from May 2013 until June 2015. The recovery in the construction industry lost momentum in the third and fourth quarters of 2015, however, and it entered recession in the first half of 2016. Official statistics for the third quarter of the year showed that construction output was at its weakest for four years. This was thought to be largely due to the economic uncertainty following the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU. Despite the overall fall in all work in November 2016, new work increased, with new housing output continuing to grow, driven by:
- an increase in public housing in the wake of the government's drive to provide 400,000 affordable housing starts by 2020
- continued growth in private housing due to historically low interest rates and the loosening of private planning restrictions
Growth in the construction industry remained subdued during 2017. Little change is expected for 2018 - the Construction Products Association forecast that the sector would remain flat, at best, during 2018. New private industrial orders have been falling and growth has been dependent on an increase in infrastructure activity and private housebuilding offsetting a sharp fall in the commercial and industrial sectors. This pattern is expected to continue in 2018.
Following the decision in June 2016 to leave the EU, the value of sterling fell sharply, increasing the cost of imported construction materials substantially. As a result, margins, which were already under pressure in 2016, were squeezed further in 2017. Higher costs, weaker demand and the uncertainty resulting from the Brexit negotiations made for tough trading conditions during 2017 and into 2018.
The loss of jobs in the industry resulting from the downturn following the financial crisis has led to a skills shortage. Some 300,000 skilled craftsmen left the industry, many for good. This has led to higher potential earnings for those offering tiling services.
The faltering recovery of the general economy and the construction industry has been alleviated to an extent by:
- the popularity amongst homeowners of extending their homes because of the high price of moving up to a larger property, particularly in areas where prices are high, for example in London
- the increase in buy-to-let landlords creating a spike in renovations - although recent tax changes have made buy-to-let less attractive so there may be a reduction in this work in future
There should always be demand for good skilled trades-people, but it's a very competitive market and it's important for tiling businesses to maintain high standards if they want to succeed. Unlike some aspects of construction, tile fixing is popular with and accessible to DIYers and many people are keen to have a go themselves.
Wall and floor tiling occupations are covered by the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS). Tilers undertaking an NVQ/QCF course can apply for a red trainee card, while qualified tilers can apply for a blue (skilled worker) or gold (advanced skills) card. (Green skills cards are also available for tilers who have completed a basic NVQ/QCF qualification, while management-level operatives can apply for a black card.) The CSCS card enables tilers to demonstrate to potential clients or employers that they have relevant training and are competent to carry out the job. Many construction firms are already insisting that any tilers they employ must hold a CSCS card. As the scheme becomes more widely known, it is possible that domestic clients will also prefer to use tilers who hold a CSCS card.
Materials available to the tiling industry are constantly evolving and developing. Technological developments affect many of the materials that you will work with on a regular basis, including floor levelling compounds, tile fixing adhesives, tanking and damp proofing products, isolating membranes and tile backer panels.
Keeping up to date with the tiling sector
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with the latest developments. It is also a good way of demonstrating your professional integrity. The Tile Association represents all businesses involved in the tile sector in the UK - manufacturers, retailers and tile fixers. It encourages high standards throughout the industry, provides information about training schemes and offers an insurance backed guarantee scheme for tiling work. The Tile Association also offers technical advice and information to help members run their businesses.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of staying up to date. Kitchens and Bathrooms News is aimed at professionals who are involved with all aspects of design and installation. Both Hospitality Interiors and Tile and Stone Journal are specialist magazines covering all aspects of the UK tile industry.
You can get a lot of useful information from trade shows like the Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom (KBB) exhibition. You will be able to meet tile manufacturers, suppliers and importers.