Feature「Taking on the Labor Shortage Problem」
In Japan, the manpower decline in the construction industry is an increasingly serious problem caused by the aging of our society, and the labor shortage faced by the construction industry is a major societal problem. In response, YKK AP is undertaking a number of initiatives, including the development of easy-installation products and human resource development. We are working on these initiatives not just within the company, but increasingly joining with partners to help solve the issue on a society-wide level.
A construction industry impacted by the aging of society
The number of people employed in the construction industry continues to fall from its peak of 6.85 million in 1997. By 2018, this number had fallen to 5 million, an approximately 27% decline. Furthermore, the labor force continued to age, with almost 1/3 of the workers being 55 or older. On the other hand, workers 29 or younger made up only 10% of the total, meaning that not only must we secure and train human resources to support the construction industry in the medium-and long-term, we must urgently develop and popularize easy-Installation products that make it possible to complete projects with a limited number of workers.
In the face of this labor shortage, the construction industry is undertaking a range of initiatives. The industry in general is promoting countermeasures and advocating the increased use of i-Construction with IoT technology and the hiring of foreign workers, and in April 2024, work style reforms will be introduced.
As well, with the growing sophistication of construction technology in recent years driven by factors such as the growth in house functionality and thermal insulation, we also need to train human resources in these new technologies.
Source: Estimates by the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism based on Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications “Labor Manpower Survey” (2018 average).
YKK AP's initiatives
Our company manufactures windows and doors that help to enrich people's lives. Through our manufacturing, we have implemented a range of initiatives to take on issues faced by the construction industry. Especially we have focused on easy-installation, labor-saving installation, and human resource development.
In order to solve the problems of skills transfer and human resource development in the industry, it is important not only to develop easy-installation products and technologies within the company, but also to engage in cooperative and creative responses with professional users, business partners, and other outside parties.
In 2013, we launched the Installation Skills Training Academy to train sash and curtain wall installation technicians. Further, in 2019 we opened the Partners Support Studio in Kurobe, Toyama as a facility to propose technology to professional users, and in 2020, DO SPACE Ageo was established in Ageo, Saitama, as an installation technology training facility for exterior specialists.
With these various initiatives, we believe that we can help solve societal issues, develop the industry, and raise customer satisfaction.
Expanding easy-installation products
According to the Monozukuri White Paper issued by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), skills are tacit knowledge that is difficult to transfer and learn via manuals. With the aging of society, the construction industry is facing an aging workforce and labor shortages, and therefore demand is growing for simple products and technologies that do not require practiced skills on the construction site.
Kantan Mado Remo (easy window remodeling)
A window remodeling product using a cover installation method so that the new window or door can be mounted over the existing frame, without removing that frame. With traditional methods, installation requires to break the wall, which produces noise pollution and dust, demands a lot of time, and increases costs.
But with Kantan Mado Remo (easy window remodeling) products, the new window can be installed over the frame using the cover installation method. This has the advantage of reducing unnecessary costs such as scaffolding, and enabling workers to install one window in only about half a day. This results in less labor being required from installation technicians compared to traditional methods, and helps ensure smooth completion even in the face of labor shortages.
Also, in conventional cover installation methods, sealant has to be injected into the gap between the existing frame and the new frame, the efficacy of which depends on the skills of the installation technician. However, with Kantan Mado Remo (easy window remodeling), the airtight sheet is easily attached with the non-sealant cover installation method, and this assures installation quality regardless of individual installation skills. Thus, the method shortens installation period, reduces the installation technician's workload, and ensures quality.
Our company offers a range of easy-installation products in addition to Kantan Mado Remo (easy window remodeling).
Kantan Door Remo (easy door remodeling)
This easy-installation product enables door remodeling without wall work using the same cover installation method as Kantan Mado Remo (easy window remodeling). Restoration work for wall is not required after the door is replaced and the installation can be completed in approximately one day.
Kantan Mado Remo (easy window remodeling) Shutter
Residents often find it difficult to open and close shutters. When remodeling to make shutters easier to open and close, the storage cabinets and the wall have to be removed and the exterior wall needs to be rebuilt, which significantly increases work time and costs. However, using the cover installation method of this product, there is no need to break down either the cabinets or wall, and therefore installation only takes about three hours.
Our Solarea enclosures for terraces and balconies reduce the number of screw types by half, and the total number of screws by three quarters. Sections requiring sealant are consolidated and areas around water collection components are kept dry, resulting in a 20% reduction in sealant volume. Installation period is reduced and quality is improved compared to former products.
Conventionally, exterior walls are made with concrete using wet installation methods and require multiple types of works. This causes quality gap depending on the skills of the installation technicians. This product requires only dry installation for the aluminum frame structure, and thus provides more consistent quality
"Non-welding method" for commercial building sashes
Mortar injection wet installation is a new sash installation method that replaces traditional welding methods. Instead of welding, the sash is fixed to the building by injecting resin which is secured by the hardening of the material. Not only does this method do away with the need for the electrical power used in welding, it reduces fire risk and spark protection owing to no use of fire. As well, the method is not affected by the weather, which contributes to stabilize project schedule.
Support jigs contribute to labor-saving
In recent years, windows are required not just to serve as openings between the outside and inside of homes, but also to provide high-level functions such as high thermal insulation and fire-protection. Accordingly, the weight of windows has grown, which increases the burden not only on workers but also at the transportation stage.
We are developing support jigs as a way to ensure safety and efficiency during transportation and installation, while at the same time ensuring product quality. These jigs also deliver labor-savings and serve as a response to the aging workforce.
When transporting glass or assembling sash screens, we have to consider worker safety and the possibility of glass breakage due to the fallen sash. Assembling heavy sash screens imposes burdens on workers, especially elderly and female workers
In response, we have developed the KT001TM Assembly Support. The suction pump secures the glass, enabling workers to transport and assemble the glass without directly touching it. This is not only safer; it improves quality by helping to avoid marks and scratches from work tables or floors. This support equipment can carry up to 80 kg in weight, enabling a single worker to handle heavy items with little trouble.
Also, we have developed support jigs for the installation of large-opening products that are particularly hard to handle for workers. These jigs reduce heavy lifting labor and include an easy hand crane that helps with loading and unloading from trucks, a glass conveyor that can carry self-supporting large-size glass, and a hoisting jig for scaffolding that lifts and turns glass panes. The use of such support jigs can reducelabor requirements from six workers to three, and contributes to reduce workload in both distribution and installation.
Human resource development to support the next generation
Skill transfer and human resource development are essential to monozukuri and the construction industry. The YKK Group is aware that in this aging society, passing on skills to the next generation is one of our most pressing issues. For these reasons, human resource development was identified as a primary point in the YKK Group's Fifth Mid- Term Management Plan.
As an initiative to foster Installation technicians, in 2013 we established the Installation Skills Training Academy (see Monozukuri and Installation) jointly with the YKK AP Group Installation Cooperative, which is made up of our company and sash and curtain wall installation companies across Japan. The academy is an initiative to train sash and curtain wall installation technicians in six years, whereas normally it takes ten years to become full-fledged. It creates opportunities for seasoned installation technician veterans to impart their knowledge and skills to young workers.
In addition, we launched the Human Resource Development Project in FY 2018, based on themes of organization building, human resources strategy formulation, and "Fostering Talent" to achieve sustainable growth. HR Development Project initiatives are aimed not just at developing our own employees, but also the human resources of our partnering distributors who sell our products to builders and contractors. One of these initiatives is a training program for architectural product distributors where succession planning is an issue. "Regional Architectural Product Training (Beginner)" is aimed at relatively inexperienced employees of these distributors, to impart knowledge and skills such as construction basics and assembly, installation, and adjustment with courses on both classroom and practical skills. Another initiative is "Sale Enhancement Training", which is aimed at middle or lower level sales representatives of distributors, coaching smooth communication techniques when dealing with the builders and contractors who are the distributors' business partners.
Going forward, we will continue to see human resource development as a foundation of sustainable growth, and keep on working on this issue both within and outside the company.
"Sales Enhancement Training" and "Windows and Architectural Products Training (Beginner)" conducted by HR Development Project
Installation Skills Training Academy
Co-creation with partners to accelerate problem solving
To solve the labor shortage, it is important to create solutions not just within the company, but together with external partners. We are currently accelerating external partner cooperation.
One example is our participation in the big wood panel project. YKK AP supplies vinyl windows to Wood Station Corporation. The company engages in "big wood panel" construction, in which wood panels are used in all aspects of wood-structure construction, from framework to primary waterproofing. The integrated panels are produced at the factory and then assembled on site. This reduces construction period, labor, and manpower, and helps ensure the construction quality remains consistent. Overall, the number of days required for building house is dramatically reduced.
In 2019, we opened the Partners Support Studio, which is a facility that presents proposals to professional users based on our technology and quality, takes up issues faced by these professional users, and offers solution. At the facility, we provide information about product installation, technoquality at time of use, and logy through installation seminars and other means. As well, we take on feedback from builders and develop products in response. For example, in July 2019, the Partners Support Studio hosted joint installation verifications together with installation technicians from MADO (window) Shop window remodeling businesses.
In January 2020, we opened our DO SPACE Ageo, with the goal of the training and improving the skills of exterior products technicians and imparting installation techniques. The facility's role is to provide human resource development and skills improvements for installation technicians, especially for those who are new to exterior installation and have not previously handled YKK AP products. Other roles include developing and implementing curriculum to maintain high level of quality against diversified products and installation. Also, this facility takes a role in providing a space where our company and exterior installation technicians can work and create jointly.
We are also focus on joint research and other initiatives in cooperation with universities and research institutions. For example, in 2019, we joined up with Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S. to launch an industry-academia joint research project to develop windows and doors installation technology and improve productivity using robot and IT technology (see Monozukuri and Installation).
Going forward, we will continue to help solve the society-wide labor shortage problem by working on transferring skills and developing new technologies.
Exterior view of the Partners Support Studio
Joint installation verification at the Partners Support Studio, with installation technicians and our R&D staff
Exterior view of DO SPACE Ageo
Installation skills training at DO SPACE Ageo