By 2050, it is estimated that 33% of jobs today will no longer exist. This could be due to redundancy, but it is most likely due to automation. This massive tidal wave of technological innovation is not new to the plumbing industry, but we are about to face drastic changes in the way we do things. We have identified four major shifts that will change the future of the industry: technology, consolidation, skilled-labour shortage, and demographic shift. Our goal is to remain above water when these waves of change approach and change the very nature of the industry.
Over the last few years, consolidation has gradually changed the landscape of our industry. Larger businesses, especially in wholesale, are purchasing competitors and growing at unprecedented rates. This will impact product innovation, customer service, and accessibility. For better or for worse, it looks like this trend will continue. And the Plumbing and Heating industry is not alone in this. Insurance, manufacturing, electronics, and retail are all encountering some level of consolidation. If you look at historical economic patterns, this concentration is cyclical in nature, and will keep going until a tipping point is reached. Time will tell if these changes will have a positive impact on our industry and the rest of the global economy.
Automation. Some people find it interesting, others are terrified. The impending wave of automation has already woven its way into the industry, and has completely revolutionized others. Artificial Intelligence is rapidly taking over jobs and doing them better, all without human error. Our industry remains laggards in technological advances, but the first benefactors in our industry will see drastic results. We should take solace in knowing that a robot will not replace a plumber, a salesperson (thankfully), or human to human interaction anytime soon. The most serious shift we see is the emergence of the online world. Our decisions more often than not are driven by our clicks, likes, and seemingly never-ending scrolling. AI has the ability to learn your buying decisions better than you do – so an online presence has never been more important to the fundamental success of any business. Online purchases have already impacted the industry and our lives. In the world of Amazon and others, anything can be ordered at the click of a button. These clicks are tracked, measured, and utilized to understand the world of you much better. So, how do you combat this technological wave? Embrace and be ahead of it. Build a better website, have a deeper marketing outlook, understand who your customers are, how to reach them and why they buy your product or service. The online world is just beginning, and it’s time to adapt.
Industry wide, companies are faced with the same issue: finding good people. Now not everyone in the plumbing and heating industry is a skilled-tradesperson. But, with fewer students entering into trades, the industry is suffering. With that suffering, comes tremendous losses with incomprehensible outcomes. Without the use of trained skilled-labour, we face endangering consequences of improper installations, contaminated water sources, and potentially catastrophic flooding. How do you fight these impending realities? Invest heavily in the people you have. If they have a desire to be a plumber, invest in them. Provide the training they need. If not, we could be facing detrimental effects to the entire industry and beyond. It is time to make the trades “cool” again.
We heard recently from a prominent wholesaler that in 5 years 25% of their labour force will be retired. 1/4. That is a scary number. This brings us to a challenge most industries will face: succession of knowledge. How do we transfer years of experience down to younger generations? Is it possible with such a large amount retiring at once? It is hard to tell, but one thing for sure is that we have to invest in the education of the younger generation. The apprentices, the trainees, the interns, the up and comers. They need the minds and knowledge of people past. Equipped with knowledge, a youthful spirit and innovation, we could see progress for the better. So invest in your newcomers; they could become your most valuable asset.