Open mike Specialists such as shopfitters should make their voices heard if standards are to be maintained along the contracting supply chain.

The large contractors that dominate the construction industry fail to understand the needs of specialist operators in the sector. Trade federations believe they set the agenda that the rest of the industry, which does about 70% of the work, should dutifully follow.

The trade press sticks to the idea that industry leaders are central to the sector’s evolution. Yet Egan and Latham have come and gone and we still haven’t mastered the art of respecting people and working in integrated teams. Mistrust between large contractors and specialist firms continues as issues such as payment terms are fuelled by a blame and litigation culture.

Contractors tendering on ridiculous margins fight furiously to defend those margins. This leads to confrontations that can only be resolved through statutory adjudication. What happened to “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” without having to resort to statutory litigation to determine what is fair?

The shopfitting and interior contracting sector is driven by organisations with multimillion-pound turnovers. The work is mostly undertaken by a principal contractor managing anywhere between 10 and 15 trades on any given project.

The National Association of Shopfitters is determined to be an effective representative of its sector. It also wants to encourage good relations among members, clients and any stakeholders who have a vested interest in maintaining high standards in the shopfitting and interior contracting sector.

We must look beyond the 30% who believe it is their divine role to set the agenda for the other 70% to follow

If we are to break down the fragmentation in our industry, we must look beyond the 30% who believe it is their divine role to set the agenda for the other 70% to follow. The association will continue to extend its influence and drive the agenda forward. It is no cottage industry. Its members – many of whom are leaders in the shopfitting and interior contracting sphere – get involved to ensure the association’s evolution.

We are proud of our independence and the fact that we have not allied ourselves to other federations. We do not subscribe to the view that shopfitting and interior contracting is merely part of the supply chain and that we should follow meekly and passively roll over. But that does not mean we want to go it alone. Indeed, if we spent more time recognising that specialists are good at their job and that we can’t manage without each other, we’d go a long way towards breaking down mistrust.

Training body CITB-ConstructionSkills is working with the National Association of Shopfitters to develop a site management safety training scheme, Site Safety Plus. The five-day course proves there is more to this industry than bricks and mortar and that a one-size-fits-all approach is insufficient.

But specialists would find the task of ensuring their workforce attended such courses more palatable if there was demonstrable parity of costs between mainstream operators and specialist organisations. Shopfitting is based on a strong craft tradition. Most of the people in the industry, including senior managers and company directors, will have received high-level training. Traditional skills have been developed over the years to embrace new materials and technology, and companies have created new systems to deal with new regulations and the needs of clients in a quickly changing business world.

The National Association of Shopfitters is by no means the sole arbiter of standards in construction. If we are to join up the dots, there needs to be a general recognition that intelligent thinking does exist outside the large contractors.