How to tackle the skills shortage

Chris Alderson, managing director of Edgetech UK, talks about the issues of skill shortage in manufacturing and how IGU companies can protect themselves for the future.

When I’m out and about there’s often one theme that keeps cropping up in conversation. At the moment, it’s the skills shortage. To find out what it really means for the glazing industry and, more importantly, what the implications are to our customers, I did some investigation.

It didn’t take long to find facts and figures to show what the underlying issues are for the UK skills shortage, and the figures for manufacturing make grim reading. More than 35% of manufacturing jobs are classified as hard to fill according to the 2015 UKCES Employers Skills Survey. This means that one-in-three jobs is categorised in this way. The figures have been investigated further in the EEF Skills Report 2016. Its findings show that 68% of employers cite the lack of technical skills and industry experience.

There’s also an ageing workforce in manufacturing for employers to tackle; two-fifths of companies report that more than 40% of their workforce is over 50.

While the skills shortage has escalated, there’s also been an increase in the number of larger insulated glass unit companies manufacturing more than 5,000 units a week. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a reduction in the total number of IGU companies. Over a quarter have gone within just the last five years with the remaining businesses picking up market share. We believe this trend is likely to continue, albeit at a slower pace, with smaller companies being bought by larger ones or exiting manufacture.

IGU companies planning to grow need protection from the uncertainty in the employment market. High speed automation has proven itself as a solution. It gives companies the flexibility to grow without being reliant on finding people with the right skills. During my recent visits to Glasstec in Dusseldorf and Glass Build America in Las Vegas, it was the high-speed lines that took centre stage. The level of automation now available is far superior from anything else we’ve seen in recent years allowing companies to gain more capacity from the same number of staff.

Today’s machines can make an insulated glass unit in 15 to 20 seconds. A high-speed automated line is impressive to watch. It brings the first piece of glass down and applies Super Spacer. Then it marries up to the second piece of glass while being filled with gas, before the final stage of sealing.

This speed of manufacture means installing a high-speed line can increase production dramatically – making 1,500 units per shift a realistic target. And because they don’t take up any more space than slower machines, they also offer a solution to companies at manufacturing capacity.

When moving to automation, a big part of the productivity equation is the combination of machine and spacer. Super Spacer has consistently been proven to give IGU manufacturers the flexibility to grow. Looking at our long-standing customers, it’s the ones that took opportunity to invest in automated Super Spacer application that have performed best.

The high level of uncertainty in the labour market is a real concern for many IGU manufacturers. We believe that high-speed lines using Super Spacer offer IGU manufacturers the best return on investment. Choosing to invest in high speed machinery offers a level of certainty to companies looking to increase capacity and protect themselves from the ticking time bomb of the skills shortage.