If you ask a fencing installer why he became one, the answer you often get is: “I wasn't clever enough to do anything else.” That always rather winds us up here in the editorial department. Fencing is a profession in its own right and certainly not suitable for fools. It takes a good deal of knowledge, skill and intelligence to become a fencing installer.
For example, you should be able to distinguish the colours green, anthracite and black from each other. In the morning light especially, that’s more difficult than the average person might think. And if you need to obtain a safety certificate, so you can work at an oil refinery for instance, you need to be able to correctly fill in the answers during an exam as per your boss’s prompts.
What's more, you need to be able to read at primary school level and count up to a hundred roughly, so that you understand the work orders. You need to be able to work a calculator so you can calculate how many packs or bundles you need to transport to the construction site, and you should know the difference between left and right so that you get the gates to open in the customer’s preferred direction.
A good work ethic is also important for a fencing installer. If you've scored some pills on Friday with a view to partying all weekend, you should at least have the presence of mind to phone your boss on Sunday evening and tell him you can't come in on Monday. Your boss may well have factored that in anyway. After all, he obviously knows you, but it's still the decent thing to do.
If your driving licence has been revoked again because you were caught drunk-driving on the motorway, tell your boss that as well. Then he can get someone else to drive and the truck won't be impounded by the police.
And, if you couldn't restrain yourself after payday and immediately spent half a day in the cafeteria feeding your entire salary into the fruit machine, you've got to be skilled at thinking up pretexts and excuses to explain why the job didn't get done.
That's all complete nonsense, of course. Fencing installers are inclined to poke fun at themselves but the industry really isn't composed entirely of uneducated football hooligans, borderline criminals, cowboys and other hopeless losers. The vast majority of installers are very good at their job. And just as in any other industry, every now and then you come across a super-installer.
They're the installers who get dozens of metres of fencing done in a jiffy. The ones who, when a job goes well, surprise their bosses in the afternoon by coming to pick up another pack of panels for the job. Those who never phone up to say they're stuck. It's the installers who get the biggest tips because they leave customers super-satisfied.
They're the installers the boss of every fencing business would commit murder for. Who are granted every day off they ask for – should they ask for it, but they never do – and who are pampered in every way because they're so valuable.
Now, of course, the question is: how do you become such a super-installer? There are no fencing schools, where you can learn our great profession. And even if they did exist, you probably wouldn't last long in one. Fencing installers and school don't go that well together.
If you're lucky, you'll have an old-school ganger or foreman you can pick up things from. But even without him, you can still become a super-installer. How? In the same way you became a regular installer: by gaining practical experience. All the fencing installers we know have learned the profession by falling over and picking themselves back up again. The super-installers simply fell over a bit more often and harder – and picked themselves back up a bit more often as well.
The great thing about it is: if you're already a fencing installer, you can practise every day. For free, in the boss's time. All you need are willpower, perseverance and discipline.
That starts by just paying attention and thinking, in everything you do. As you're setting off in the morning and before you exit the yard, go through the whole packing list one more time and check that you've got all the materials you need with you that day. Then you won't need to go to the hardware store halfway through the day, or even worse, all the way back to base. That's the worst possible waste of time.
And eliminating wasted time is where the most profit can be made. The fewer unproductive hours there are, the more valuable you become. Time is money, a universal law. So never call the business either to say that you can't continue until someone arrives with an aerial platform or a mini-digger. Try to improvise. You'll probably be able to borrow a loader or a forklift from somewhere in an industrial estate nearby.
The same applies to the fencing itself: make sure the metres go up at a rapid rate. The more metres you fit in the same time, the more valuable you are. It doesn't necessarily have to involve ridiculous muscle power or running faster. Here, too, the biggest gains lie in efficiency. Stop and think for 10 minutes or so before you start. How can you make sure you spend the least time walking around empty-handed?
During those first 10 minutes, also insert a stick in the ground that marks your goal for that day and keep going until you get there. Make sure you never go home when there's only an hour's work left on a job. If you have to go back tomorrow for that one short hour, half a day will be lost with all the driving to and fro.
Then when you finally get back to base after a long day, don't run off to your own car and drive off site with screeching tyres. You really deserve that cold beer now, but in half an hour it will taste even better. The installation truck should be tidied up first and loaded for the next day. And topped up with fuel, so you don't have to do that tomorrow morning.
What also helps: setting off early. At least early enough to avoid the morning traffic jams. Then you'll also finish earlier in the afternoon and can get home before the evening rush hour. You'll have to shift your rhythm for a while, but you'll soon get used to it and it will save a huge amount of useless time.
You'll say, “OK, but why should I go to all that effort? Just so the boss can drive an even plusher AMG? What's in it for me?” And now we get to the point: a really good installer can earn so much that he can afford his own AMG.
Because the more metres you install, the more valuable you are to your boss and the more salary you can demand from him. He should happily pay you accordingly. Casually ask him what you can earn if you fix double the number of metres every day. Just for fun, even if you think it's impossible to fix double the number of metres every day at the moment. That question is a nice first step towards becoming a super-installer. And before you know it, you'll be going to your school reunion in the nicest car out of all your former classmates, those who were not too stupid for anything else. <