The bricklayer is nine months in coming, the heating fitter an average of four months. Because the orders are pouring in, but there are no specialists, the waiting times for craftsmen are longer than ever. Some companies are now giving up in frustration and customers are leaving. There would be possible solutions.

Choking on your own success? This diagnosis has apparently been applicable to the vast majority of tradespeople for months – and is a catastrophe for customers: the painter doesn’t come, the electrician doesn’t make appointments and the heating specialist makes his customers happy when he promises to stop by before winter. In fact, however, it is not the good work of the craft trades that is the trigger for the lack of deadlines in the entire industry, but an uneasy mixture of material bottlenecks, labor shortages, successor problems in companies and high energy costs are causing problems for the companies and their customers. In addition, there is also a government-sponsored demand for craft services. That’s why it takes months before a socket is relocated, a washbasin is reinstalled or even a wall is freshly painted by a professional. Craftsmen are simply not to be found.

Guides for builders list the current waiting times. At the top are bricklayers, for whom clients have to wait an average of six to nine months, followed by carpenters, who have to wait four to five months, which is not much longer than the average four months it takes the heating fitter to come by .

The industry as a whole suffers from the reputation of only being able to process orders at a snail’s pace, and customers are tired of it: If at all possible, they no longer order craftsmen. Instead, they have moonlighting, postpone the order or do it themselves. Conversely, some companies no longer accept orders of their own accord.

Against this background, the expectations in the industry have deteriorated dramatically, the Munich Ifo Institute recently determined. The economic researchers conducted a survey with the result: In April, 54.2 percent of companies in building construction were affected by supply bottlenecks, and 46.2 percent in civil engineering. “These are highs since the beginning of the time series in 1991,” says Ifo researcher Felix Leiss. Business expectations have become so gloomy that 60 percent of construction companies, according to regional associations, are not accepting any new orders for the time being.

Those who are responsible for the sustainable renovations demanded by all are in dire straits. For example, fitters who install heat pumps. The market is growing rapidly with growth rates of 30 percent. 150,000 systems were installed last year alone. Those who are supposed to do it are completely busy. “We currently have an average order backlog of 14 weeks,” says Helmut Bramann, General Manager of the Central Association for Sanitary, Heating and Air Conditioning (ZVSHK), which has an overview of 49,000 member companies with 392,000 employees. Individual establishments are fully booked for much longer. Often they cannot work at all because the industry cannot deliver. It is struggling with missing parts, for example for the electronics of the control.

To make matters worse, there is a lack of real experts for the most modern things that are on the market. “We have recently initiated a survey to get an overview,” explains Bramann. He estimates that only “between 15 and 30 percent of companies are currently able to install a heat pump. In at least two out of three companies, interested parties knock in vain because they lack the necessary specialist knowledge.

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One of the reasons for this is their own success: Many companies are so busy that they cannot do without their employees for additional training. However, the association puts the current personnel requirements at around 40,000 professional fitters and more than 30,000 trainees. The shortage of skilled workers is significantly spoiling the holiday mood in the industry. “We are wondering how the six million heat pumps that politicians have set themselves by 2030 are to be installed,” says Bramann. The industry alone needs 60,000 additional fitters.

The war in Ukraine is doing the rest to throw handicraft businesses out of sync. “Russia and Ukraine are important suppliers of construction steel, there is now a shortage here. Bitumen – needed for road construction and sealing – is subject to further distortions. The production of many building materials is also very energy-intensive. The strong price increases for energy sources therefore also threaten domestic production and ensure further increases in the price of building materials,” analyze the ifo economic researchers. “With ongoing projects, the question arises to what extent cost increases can be passed on. New projects are hardly calculable.”

So little or nothing in the trade is going as it should – which means that the time has come for consultants who see crises as triggers for change. One of them is Christoph Blepp, founding partner at S

Three points would have to change: It’s about faster construction, through prefabricated elements that only have to be assembled on site. It’s all about digital construction: “Modern companies work with Building Information Modeling, i.e. digital twins of the buildings that they help develop or on which they work. Every socket is listed there and everyone involved can see the progress of construction in real time.” And it’s about breaking old habits: “The construction industry has to overcome the fragmentation of the trades,” says the consultant. Craftsmen should not feel at home in the guild, but think in projects. “Take a heating engineer: he used to have to be familiar with gas and water. Today he installs heat pumps and photovoltaics and in the future also battery storage.”

Consultants and craftsmen agree that what is of no use is if politicians continue to raise the requirements without the companies having a chance to process the orders that are coming their way. The Osnabrück crafts president Reiner Möhle puts it this way: “What politicians decide in Berlin cannot be achieved by the crafts businesses in the area. For us, this is the best economic stimulus package, but we cannot implement it. That is utopian.”

What does he mean specifically? “Twice as many bridges as expected are dilapidated and need to be replaced. 400,000 apartments are to be built. The old building needs to be refurbished.” He sums up the sobering conclusion of the President of the Trades in one word, more than ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel did in the face of the flood of orders and a shortage of skilled workers and materials: “We can’t do it.”

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The article “Craftsmen are at the end of their ropes despite full order books: “We can’t do it”” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.