How to upskill our industry

In her first instalment for Glass Times following her presentation at the recent Building Our Skills conference, Tracey Jackson from Howells Patent Glazing explains more about her company’s journey to making manufacturing, more specifically fenestration, a go-to career choice.

We find it bizarre that some companies consider training of their staff to be cumbersome, only thinking of the downtime in the department or the negative restrictions that having a member of staff out of the office will bring.

We encourage the growth of our staff through regular reviews with every employee. Following our business planning, we look at what the employee wants and how they see their future at Howells panning out, in conjunction with our strategic aims. We then look at how to boost their ambitions, enabling them to reach that bit higher.

Because we want to ‘grow’ individuals within our company we have offered adult NVQs to all our staff. We have been very lucky to have had the support of Dudley College to help us with this journey. They have assigned lecturers to attend our premises to deliver this training and ensure that the quality and integrity of the courses are maintained.

We have found that although some of our staff were at first reluctant to go down the learning route after so many years away from it, once one course was completed, they were actually asking for more. To help their journey we trained one of our staff to be a workplace mentor, this gave them someone to confide in and talk about their journey.

The biggest challenge that we encountered was actually a side issue of ensuring that anyone undertaking an NVQ also sat for functional skill training in English and Maths, and for some of our NVQs, ICT. These differed in levels dependant on the academic level of the main course. Over the past three years, we have nurtured our staff through NVQs and courses ranging from Level 2, right the way through to Levels 5 and 7.

Neither does upskilling apply to internal staff only; we also consider sub-contractors, such as fitters.

We are finding that all too often site workers and installers with no fenestration experience are applying for entry level operative cards. This is partly due to there being no qualification currently in our glass roofing industry.

This green operative card is the basic card required to enter a building site and only requires a one day health and safety course followed by an environmental test, which can be completed in just one weekend of studying. There is little to ensure skill and the quality of workmanship. GQA is addressing this by having a full NVQ in fenestration whereby it is a requirement to pass a skills test before being given a skilled worker card (blue card).

Unfortunately, although this covers the fenestration industry as a whole, it is predominately for window glaziers. In particular the Level 2 Diploma in Fenestration Installation covers us for knowledge of windows, doors and conservatories as well as general fenestration installation and handling materials involved in our trade.

We have encountered lots of challenges on our training journey, with issues such as fear of change, learning difficulties and adaptions to working hours. But, with the right planning and input from managers, these do not need to be unsurmountable.

We found our way; through encouragement and excellent teaching we have achieved our original aim of upskilling our staff. As small companies, we should not be afraid of training, we should embrace it. This is the only way to address future planning and the looming skills shortage.

Look at your current workforce and see how they can be developed. Upskilling does not have to mean losing staff but enables you to retain them for longer.