Climate change and the energy crisis have highlighted slow action when it comes to replacing existing infrastructures, but not only that--the high demand for sustainable technologies such as solar panels and heating pumps is struggling to find a match in Luxembourg’s artisan pool.
“We’ve observed a trend that the construction sector has the biggest need in workforce,” the Chamber of Skilled Trades and Crafts’s director Tom Wirion tells Delano. The chamber over the second quarter of 2022 sought out businesses to find out, among others, how many workers companies needed. Around 44% of Luxembourg’s artisan businesses answered the call, and 70% of these confirmed the staff shortage.
Extrapolating the results of the study, the chamber found that the grand duchy would need to find around 1,700 qualified workers in the next twelve months to catch up with customer demand.
Dropping services, refusing requests
The staff shortage is already visible on the field too. Finding a specialist who can install a heating pump or solar panels and who has the time to do so, is a challenge in itself.
“We stopped installing heating pumps--we don’t have the right specialists for this in Luxembourg and we have issues getting access to the materials needed, so we decided to just give up this service,” BKI, a French-Luxembourg company, says.
“It’s hard finding qualified people--this is the case for all of the construction sector,” BKI’s spokesperson explains. As such, due to the staff shortage and difficult access to materials, it can take eight months to complete a contract that would’ve taken six months to complete in the past.
The uptake in requests--linked to encouraging government subsidies--is also a contributing factor. “We have between 5 and 10 requests a day, but this has calmed down now that people are waiting for VAT reductions to come into force,” BKI says. But the company already anticipates a boom in demands, and relies on informal agreements to better manage it.
A Belgian company based in Arlon told Delano that they have had to refuse requests for fear of not matching their service quality. The difficult access to materials adds to the issue.
Improving the image of trades careers
The education system and general opinion on artisan jobs is to blame for some of the interviewees. “There is a disinterest for this kind of job, we don’t have anyone to replace us after we retire,” a craftsperson explains.
The image that clings to manual education isn’t improved by some decisions the education system takes either. “It can’t be that a person is sent to do an apprenticeship because they’re bad at maths,” says Wirion. “Placing them there by default or failure can’t work. You must look at teens in their entirety, and not just through their failures. In the last 60 years, this selection of criteria hasn’t improved.”
It can’t be that a person is sent to do an apprenticeship because they’re bad at maths.
The idea that these jobs are less well paid is also erroneous, says Wirion. If anything, on top of fair remuneration, these careers can offer a sense of contributing to the greater good and the energy transition. But perhaps, the current workforce shortage in the trades sector isn’t all that bad, Wirion surmises.
“The current situation in which we are is an opportunity for the whole artisan sector. Because the green transition only works if there are craftspeople,” he says. “If you understand that that’s where it’s at, in terms of techniques, innovation… there’s a chance for us that the perception in the general public’s mind will change, and that a bigger valorisation of the manual apprenticeship will follow.”
Keeping staff, attracting more on the short term
Changing the perception of students and their parents may well benefit the sector on the long term, but what of the 1,700-man shortage registered for the coming twelve months? “Workforce retention is also crucial for the preservation of our quality of life and comfort in this country,” as Wirion puts it. For one, many trades businesses in Luxembourg don’t seem to have a talent retention strategy, the head of the chamber of artisans notes. For this reason, the chamber will organise a day of workshops around the theme later in November.
Workforce retention is also crucial for the preservation of our quality of life and comfort in this country.
The other solution is to open up the grand duchy’s market to third country citizens. “You won’t find those 1,700 workers in Luxembourg alone,” says Wirion. “We’ve said this for a few years--without any results--the access criteria for the job market need to be simplified for third country citizens. This means that for the jobs that experience a shortage of staff, the the system needs to be made easier.” Possible ways of doing this had been published by the chamber in 2019, but nothing came of it.
Lastly, polishing unqualified staff into tomorrow’s craftspeople can also work. “We need two profiles right now: qualified workers and unqualified workers. Unqualified also doesn’t mean that they will always remain like that. Some companies have started hiring unqualified but highly motivated people to train up,” Wirion shares.
Adapting change to reality
Though a transition to sustainable energies is necessary, and should take place sooner rather than later, circumstances also need to be considered. Indeed, as mentioned by several entrepreneurs interviewed by Delano, and put into words by Wirion: “Heating pumps aren’t right for each housing. It’s surely an option for people whose house is more equipped for it, but for old houses… it isn’t really applicable.”
For Wirion, the ultimatum--heating pumps and solar panels or nothing--needs to be set aside for a more nuanced approach. “Businesses are losing a lot of time communicating this to people.” Instead, he says, people who are keen to transition but whose house isn’t as efficient, should first look into improving their insulation.