Your industry needs you

Tracey Jackson from Howells Patent Glazing – and the first champion supporter for the Building our Skills campaign – explains how the future of our industry requires forward planning.

Retirement. It’s inevitable for many of us but it’s also an increasing issue in the fenestration industry; within the next 10 years we will lose 25% of skilled manufacturing and construction staff.

Consider the average age of your workforce. If you’re a business owner, what’s your succession plan? The future of the UK fenestration industry is a ticking clock; in 10-15 years there won’t be an industry to worry about if we don’t work together and develop a new generation of skilled workers.

Fenestration isn’t a dirty word but outside of our industry, who really understands and appreciates what it is? Howells is a family firm, started by my dad many years ago; it’s in our blood. It never needed to be explained to us, but we’re lucky, there are many who stumble into this industry with little awareness beyond that of double-glazing TV adverts.

Collectively, we are to blame for not promoting ourselves as a go-to industry for young talent. Ask yourself, what have you done as a business to encourage youngsters into pursuing a career in fenestration?

We are a small company, employing 39 people. Opportunities such as this article are fantastic for promoting the issue of an ageing trade, but it will take more than a lone voice shouting in the wind to tackle the problem. Our industry is bountiful, with businesses large and small, family-run to colossal PLCs. If we all did our bit, we stand a very good chance of building a sustainable, future-proof industry.

Yet, this is a grass-roots issue. This isn’t just about marketing, training and job advertisements, it’s about education and educating teachers.

We are part of Opening Doors – a digital platform where companies can list work experience-related opportunities, including factory tours. We were contacted by one school who wanted to arrange a factory tour for 250 students. Not only is this a health and safety nightmare (as they would out-number our staff by 12 to 1) on an average day but it was unrealistic. I explained that we were limited to 16 students, at any one time. We didn’t hear from them again. I believe they wanted the easy option – as few companies as possible, offering places to the maximum number of pupils. Yet we’re not put off by this experience, in fact, it fuels our fire.

Schools and colleges need to be realistic with their expectations. We understand that they may want to minimise admin and fewer visits are less of a headache, but many companies wouldn’t be able to cope, and this could mean losing support rather than gaining it. We have communicated our availability to several organisations, but we remain mindful that we cannot do this alone. We have a remit to fulfil but we also have a business to run. That’s why spreading the load between us is far more beneficial, long-term.

I think someone should be lobbying government for tax relief benefits for the companies who put their money where their mouth is and bring about change – developing career opportunities for young talent in manufacturing and construction. The tax incentive should be in-line with R&D which is levied against corporation tax. Now, that would make many business owners sit up and listen.

Box: What can you do?

  • Spread the message – fenestration as a career.
  • Get involved and support enterprise advisors in your local area with mock interviews.
  • For those with more time or a dedicated team member (in HR, possibly), be assigned to a school or college, and work with them to bring about real change for their pupils.
  • Offer factory tours – but be clear about your limitations. We have to remember that a lot of teachers don’t have business experience. It can be difficult for them to understand the obstacles that need addressing to fulfil an obligation such as this. Explain and work with them, it can be incredibly rewarding.