The installation training network began as a challenge to solve the shortage of sash and curtain wall installation technicians. Taking on challenges in collaboration with partners, and going from Japan to overseas

At YKK AP, we have put forward "We Build a Better Society Through Architectural Products." as our Purpose. We manufacture windows and doors for residential buildings, interior architectural products and exterior items, and sashes and curtain walls for commercial buildings. Since these products only function when installed on structures such as houses and buildings, the quality of workmanship by installation technicians is just as important as the products themselves. Notably, it takes advanced technical capabilities to properly install YKK AP's commercial products in buildings.

In order to enhance those technical capabilities, YKK AP has established installation training centers around the world, beginning with the opening of one in China in 2004, to provide installation training. We spoke to Masao Kurose—Head of the Technology Group, Installation Technology Department, Design and Installation Technology Division, Commercial Business Division—and Takehisa Yokoyama—Head of the Installation Group, Quality Assurance Improvement Office, Design and Installation Technology Division, Commercial Business Division—about YKK AP's installation training amidst the varying challenges we face in each country and region.

(Left) Mr. Kurose  (Right) Mr. Yokoyama

The challenges faced by our partners are also challenges for YKK AP

At YKK AP, we consider installation companies to be our partners, not just vendors. This is because we believe that the quality of workmanship by sash and curtain wall installation technicians greatly affects the value of YKK AP products, and that it is important for both the manufacturer, YKK AP, as well as the installation company responsible for the work, to cooperate and understand each other.

YKK AP and members of the Installation Collective assemble once every three years
Holding the General Meeting and National Safety Convention (Photo dated July 14, 2023)

Based on this idea, the YKK AP Group Installation Cooperative (hereinafter, the Installation Cooperative) was established in 1992, together with installation companies across Japan with advanced technical capabilities that are mainly responsible for the installation of YKK AP's building products. Since then, 490 companies and 2,087 people (as of April 2023) have joined the Installation Collective throughout Japan, and the members are active in branches nationwide.

While YKK AP and the Installation Collective both aim high to create better buildings, the Japanese installation industry is facing a major challenge. That is the shortage of sash and curtain wall installation technicians. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism's survey of the installation industry and skilled workers, approximately 34% of those involved in the installation industry as of 2015 were 55 years old or older, while approximately 10% were 29 years old or younger. These numbers are quite serious in Japan, with its aging population. The veteran sash and curtain wall installation technicians who support today's installation industry can be expected to retire in the next few decades, making it vital for installation companies nationwide to pass on veteran skills to younger workers.

Traditionally, personnel development in the installation industry has been conducted through an apprenticeship system. In this system, the master passes on his skills only to his apprentice, and the apprentice hones his skills by watching the master at work. There is a limit to the number of young people that one veteran can teach their skills to, and it is said that it takes about 10 years for an apprentice to master the skills and become independent. This challenge faced by our partners is also a challenge for YKK AP. YKK AP and the Installation Collective considered if it would be possible to establish a system that would allow as many young people as possible to absorb the skills of veterans.

To address this issue, in 2013, we launched the Installation Skills Training Academy (hereinafter, the Training Academy), where veterans of the Installation Collective teach and train younger workers. The Training Academy is set up in a corner of the Namerikawa Plant, which is the manufacturing home for curtain walls and other building products, and trainees make step-by-step progress from beginner to intermediate and advanced levels. Each course is limited to eight students at a time. As the small number of trainees intensively refine their skills, they are asked to output the skills they have learned through practical application in the real world before they can move on to the intermediate and advanced levels. Through this repetition of input and output, the Training Academy aims for trainees to become full-fledged professionals in as little as six years.

Yokoyama, who was involved in the launch of the Training Academy, noted that there was some resistance to the idea. "There were veterans who said, 'Why do we have to teach outsiders the skills we have worked so hard to acquire?'" However, he continued, "In response to those opinions, the belief that 'We don't need to be afraid of people stealing our techniques. We just need to refine our techniques more,' became prevalent among the Installation Collective's members, and due to the spread of this idea, the Training Academy became active."

From Japan to the world: the growing installation training network

In 2016, the reputation of the Training Academy in Japan led PT YKK AP NDONESIA to offer installation training together with the Installation Collective. In Indonesia, where there are many young sash and curtain wall installation technicians, YKK AP employees had previously established their own installation training center at the Tangerang Factory as a place to educate technicians on installation methods and techniques for YKK AP products. While building on conventional installation training, the center aims to further improve installation quality by inviting experienced sash and curtain wall installation technicians from the Japanese Installation Collective to participate in the training.

Installation training in Indonesia

Furthermore, in 2017, a Taiwanese version of the Training Academy was opened, modeled after the Training Academy in Japan. Taiwan lies in the path of typhoons, and its building sash industry demands excellent watertight performance. In Taiwan, as in Japan, we formed an Installation Collective, and worked with YKK AP TAIWAN CO., LTD. to improve installation quality. Although there had been exchanges with Japan in the past, the goal is to raise the level of sash and curtain wall installation technicians by opening a Training Academy where they can learn from veteran sash and curtain wall installation technicians from the Installation Collective in Japan. After the school opened, members of the Taiwanese Installation Collective also participated in the Training Academy beginner's course at the Namerikawa Plant, and we are still aiming to improve the Training Academy by passing on the DNA of Japanese installation quality. The installation training through collaboration with our partners, which started at the Namerikawa Plant, spread rapidly around the world.

The Training Academy in Taiwan

We are not just providing installation training at our installation centers and opening a Training Academy, but also providing actual on-site installation training for each property project. Up to this point, together with the Installation Cooperative in Japan and YKK AP employees, we have shared the key points for installation and important notes about the products with technicians while conducting actual on-site guidance in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, and other countries. "There are many different installation methods in different parts of the world. We never think that Japanese methods are the best, but rather, we show respect for local methods while steadily searching for the best," said Yokoyama. Since building standards vary widely around the world, providing guidance in accordance with Japanese standards is not appropriate. We support our partners in improving their installation techniques by providing installation training tailored to the culture and climate of each region.

Kurose continued, "Neither we nor the Installation Collective are fluent in the language of each region, but we communicate with each other using the local language, even if it is hard to do. If it's difficult only communicating verbally, we have colored in the architectural construction drawings and moved forward by using analog methods creatively." Remote support via smartphone calls was also provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are continuing to conduct exchanges with each region.

Attentiveness to safety, not just installation quality

Kurose said, "Of course, we share our awareness of installation quality with our sash and curtain wall installation technicians at our Training Academy and through installation training at various locations, but at the same time, safety is a theme that must never be overlooked. At YKK AP, we believe that safety is not something to be compared to quality, delivery time, or cost. Rather, we think exceptional safety is key. If an accident or defect occurs due to neglecting safety, we can recoup the delivery time and costs incurred in dealing with the situation through our efforts, but workers' health and lives will never return. Exceptional safety is shared by sash and curtain wall installation technicians around the world as something to be aware of, and we are working toward zero occupational injuries by pointing out even the slightest hazard." Yokoyama continued, "Creating safe work sites is a series of unglamorous tasks. However, they must never be neglected. As a manufacturer, we must take responsibility in providing guidance to our sash and curtain wall installation technicians to ensure that nothing happens to them."

At an actual property in China. Carefully checking factors such as safety and quality

Always finding solutions, our commitment to monozukuri

The installation training network is expanding in countries and regions around the world, including the establishment of installation training centers and the opening of Training Academies. "By working together to nurture young people in the Installation Collective, our partner, we will ultimately help YKK AP grow. This is the YKK philosophy of the 'Cycle of Goodness,' which expresses the idea that the YKK Group's business activities are based on the principle of 'No one prospers without rendering benefit to others.' YKK AP and the Installation Collective have built up a history since the Installation Collective's inception while mutually improving one another. This has certainly given us confidence. The shortage of sash and curtain wall installation technicians in Japan is still an ongoing problem. However, if we work together with the Installation Collective, I am sure we can find a solution," said Yokoyama, strongly focusing on the future.

At the same time, speaking enthusiastically, Kurose said, "We will continue our activities to solve the problem of the shortage of sash and curtain wall installation technicians, such as Training Academies and installation training, but YKK AP is also focusing on the development of robots that will lead to easy installation. However, we do not believe that robots can solve everything. We would like to start by considering demonstration tests in Japan, with an eye toward global deployment as well. Nevertheless, no matter how excellent robots are, human power will never become unnecessary. We will continue to develop robot technology while also addressing the issues faced by our partners."

YKK AP, which has confronted the challenges faced by the installation industry together with the Installation Collective, will continue to have a passion for high-rise installation and monozukuri, no matter what difficulties may arise in the future.

Masao Kurose

Masao Kurose

Head of the Technology Group, Installation Technology Department, Design and Installation Technology Division, Commercial Business Division

Joined the company in 1988. Since then, has been in charge of building design and installation management. As an installation manager, he has provided installation training to partners not only in Japan but also in Brazil, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other parts of the world.

Takehisa Yokoyama

Takehisa Yokoyama

Head of the Installation Group, Quality Assurance Improvement Office, Design and Installation Technology Division, Commercial Business Division

Joined the company in 1988. Since then, has been in charge of building design and installation management. Since 2012, he has been in charge of the Secretariat of the Installation Collective. Collaborates with the Installation Collective as the point of contact for YKK AP. Had experience with the launch of the Installation Skills Training Academy in 2013.

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