Innovation through diversity

Howard Trotter, business manager of Birmingham-based Shelforce, explains how, when it comes to training and employment opportunities in the glass and glazing industry, the window and door manufacturer is leading the way in inclusivity.

Shelforce is a leading manufacturer and installer of PVCU windows and doors, and we provide high-quality products to local authority building projects around the country, including for Birmingham City Council.

We are a full Eurocell systems supply partner and remain true to our origins and values by employing and training people with a range of disabilities and ensuring equal opportunities for all.

Investing in the future is something we have always taken seriously, and we will be opening a dedicated training facility at our factory to provide regular work experience placements soon.

We started manufacturing windows in 1992, but Shelforce was founded in 1839 as a workplace for visually impaired people as part of the Royal School for the Blind. The company was first set up to provide the blind with paid work and training in the manufacture of items such as brushes, baskets and mats.

After moving to Erdington, we officially opened in 1984 and bed manufacturing, engraving and woodwork became part of our business, and we began making gates and fences for Birmingham City Council.

We then refocused our aims on providing an employment stepping stone opportunity for people with a wider range of disabilities, before we started manufacturing windows and doors. Many of the skills used for woodworking and bed making were transferable to the production of PVCU windows and doors, and this quickly became our focus, so the production of the other items stopped.

We will be opening a training facility at our factory in Erdington to welcome students from nearby schools, including special needs schools.

One of our longest-serving staff members, Trevor Pettifer, has gone back to college at the age of 64 to complete a training certificate so the company can offer students the best possible experience.

By offering regular work experience placements, we want to help young adults of all abilities take their first steps into the workplace – and continue a proud legacy of supporting Birmingham’s population.

We have already developed a close relationship with Oscott Manor School in Birmingham, a community school catering to children with autism, and we hope to establish similar links with other schools in the area.

I recently spoke at The Glazing Summit about people with disabilities and how they can make exceptionally loyal, dedicated, hard-working employees in this and any other industry.

At Shelforce, we’ve benefitted hugely from the inbuilt resilience of disabled workers throughout our long history. They overcome bigger obstacles every day than many of us will face in a year, which means they’ve got a toughness and a determination that’ll see them through any business or production issue in the workplace.

Having an integrated approach to employment requires an unconventional recruitment process, and a hands-on, practical approach to training that replicates the factory floor operations. But if you’re willing to make that initial investment, you’re rewarded with the most passionate and dedicated workers you could ask for.

One of our aims at Shelforce is to encourage other businesses to adopt our fully inclusive employment approach and give it a try.