At the end of 2020, Federation of Master Builders members elected Jan Etchells as the organisation’s new national president, the first woman to take on the role. Here, Jan sets out the priorities for her two-year term at this challenging time for the SME building industry
I am proud to be a member of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) because it means I am part of a community of small to medium-sized building firms that put standards and quality above all else. I am even prouder to take on the role of national president for the next two years. I look forward to leading the FMB as a member, for the members.
It has been an uncertain few years for UK construction. With the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the adjustments that will be needed in line with the EU-UK trade deal, it looks like some difficulties will be with us for a time to come. Fundamentally, however, ours is a strong industry. It has given me 40 brilliant years, massive variety and firm friends.
A great industry to join
I believe strongly that this is a great industry to join and I want to use my time as FMB president to sing its praises. I think that organisations like the FMB play an important role in demonstrating the best of building to the next generation and providing them with a supportive community in which to step up and take part. Many FMB members started out as apprentices and are now successful business owners. It just goes to show that construction is truly entrepreneurial.
I’m bringing almost four decades of experience in construction to the role of FMB president. Setting up a building company with my partner in the early 1980s, I have worked in housebuilding, heritage renovation and domestic repair and maintenance. But it has been as managing director at Syntonic, a small building, heating and plumbing company based in London and the South East, where I have had some of the most interesting and rewarding experiences. From delivering kitchen installations for all the service stations up the M1 to working in hotels, prisons and schools, life at Syntonic is never dull.
One of our core values is having the right people on the job. That means staff with the right aptitude and attitude, and who have completed the relevant training. I want to bring the same ethos to my time as president and I am delighted to be working with a skilled National Board, bringing a breadth of experience to deliver the best service that we can for our members.
The future for SMEs
I have been involved in the FMB for many years, so I have first-hand experience of how the organisation has evolved. With the FMB celebrating its 80th birthday this year, this is a fantastic time to cast ahead and think about what the future will bring for our SMEs.
I know that local builders are some of the most resilient business owners around. From the FMB’s formation after the Blitz in 1941 to pulling together through the coronavirus pandemic. I want to see builders not just bounce back from these challenges but also thrive. That means making sure that we are at the forefront of transforming our homes into green, cosy and healthy places to be. It also means supporting our housebuilders to build more low-carbon homes and contribute to addressing the ongoing housing crisis and climate emergency. Builders have a proud role to play and I want to see Master Builders at the forefront.
What really sets Master Builders apart from the rest of the building industry is our commitment to quality and standards. I think the campaign to introduce a mandatory licensing scheme for UK construction companies, which is being spearheaded by the FMB, makes a lot of sense. I think it would be wrong to view this as more regulation – the last thing that any SME business owner would call for! In fact, it would simplify things, especially for the consumer. I am joined by most members of the FMB in supporting the need for a barrier to entry into construction. It cannot be right that anyone can set up a building company tomorrow and sell building services. It is dangerous, costly and brings the entire industry into disrepute. My support for licensing comes back to that point I made at the start: this is an industry that we should be proud of.
While the FMB offers the big-picture thinking, it also provides day-to-day business support services, e-training and helplines to its members. These are all great benefits of membership that I know help make the smooth running of a building company that little bit easier. I will be looking at how we can refine and improve these supports for our members over the next two years. I’m also pleased the FMB is doing more to build the online community of Master Builders.
I have no doubt that the years ahead will be challenging but it’s times like these when we must stick together more than ever. Looking back to the FMB’s roots, we have always been about supporting builders, and each other. I look forward to working with Master Builders going forward to forge a stronger building industry.
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