Plugging the skills gap

Glass Times reports on how Cornwall Glass is closing the skills gap through a training partnership with Exeter College.

At a round table event hosted by Bohle in London last year. discussion covered a myriad of different topics from product innovation to Brexit – but the one that delegates returned to time and time again was the skills gap.

It was cited by all those who attended as the key challenge facing the glass processing industry, and as a far bigger threat to its future fortunes than anything presented by Brexit.

And the glass processing sector is not alone. The government’s flagship apprenticeship scheme, which was introduced in 2015 with the aim of creating an extra three million apprenticeships by 2020, has failed to turn the tide.

A report by construction company Kier published at the end of last year revealed that it had in fact had the opposite effect with numbers for new apprenticeships starts down by 59% last year to just 48,000 compared to 117,000 in 2016.

There are those businesses that are making a stand, and Bohle is one of them. Its UV bonding seminar programme, which is offered to glass processors free of charge, has recently become available as a formal qualification.

Partnering with training provider GQA Bohle has developed an NVQ Level 2/Level 3 Introduction to UV Bonding unit. Bohle is not alone: Cornwall Glass has also developed its own partnership with training providers.

“We’d started running our own apprenticeships programme five or six years ago, offering apprenticeships as glass operatives, glazing, finance, customer service and engineering, working with a number of external providers,” Mark Knight, human resources director at Cornwall Glass, said.

“That had been fine but we wanted to introduce slightly higher standards, particularly in core areas relating to glass processing, which were better aligned to the business.”

The company consequently developed a training partnership with Exeter College, which focuses not only on the recruitment of Cornwall Glass’s next generation workforce but also on those appointed to train and assess them.

Offering NVQs Level 2 as glass operatives or glaziers, Cornwall Glass trained and developed its own qualified assessors from its factory floor. This meant working in partnership with Exeter College to develop their own skills set as assessors and trainers and to independently audit those assessments to ensure that they meet and exceed expected standards.

“In a way, we’re outsourcing our skills to them within a structured framework and against rigorous quality standards and controls,” Mike Blakeley, director of apprenticeships and employer engagement at Exeter College, said.

“As part of the approach they now also fit into our quality cycle so that you could say we have ‘adopted’ them into our organisation. Their work is also fully assessed as new trainers and mentors to ensure that it remains up to our expected standards.”

As part of the training programme itself, apprentices are ‘buddied-up’ with colleagues who are already skilled and they learn about each unit against their qualification on the job. They are then assessed against course criteria to make sure that they’re hitting expected milestones and the competencies, or to identify if additional training or support is needed.

“It’s a clear benefit to our apprentices and to us as an employer,” Mike said. “Occupational competency training means that you have the people doing the job being assessed by people who know the job inside out. They understand their training and developmental requirements in a way that an external assessor simply couldn’t be expected to.

“The net effect is that if there is a requirement for more support or additional training, it’s identified immediately, and learning and development is quicker and to a far higher standard.”

There are currently 18 apprentices, working through the Cornwall Glass Apprenticeships Journey, with seven colleagues having already completed training, achieving NVQ Level 2 as glass operatives or glaziers.

Apprentices also receive regular reviews throughout their course. This includes regular salary reviews based on attainment. Other incentives include driving lessons, if they haven’t already qualified, and £100 of high street vouchers.

“It’s all on the job training”, Callum Murkin, apprentice glass operative at Cornwall Glass, said.

Weeks away from completing an NVQ Level 3 in glass production, he is the first to recognise the positive impact it has had.

“You’re buddied up and you watch someone with 20 years’ experience doing the job,” he said. “Dispatch now sounds pretty straightforward but when you first come into it, you need to learn how to handle glass safely and to be confident around it.

“What it’s given me above everything else is confidence. I have developed a lot of new skills but that’s come with the confidence to take new things and new responsibilities on. I’m the site first aider, I now lock-up the shop floor at the end of the day.”