Skills gap a far bigger threat than Brexit

The skills gap represents the major challenge for the glass processing and glazing sectors as increasing automation of process and generational change creates a deficit in traditional skills.

The warning was made at a special industry forum, organised by Bohle to discuss the key issues shaping the glass processing and glazing sector.

Held in London in early October, the skills deficit and limited training and development opportunities for new entrants to the sector were highlighted as the single biggest challenge for glass processors and glaziers.

1st Glass & Mirror’s David Simberg, warned that quality remained a challenge for the industry because of the erosion of traditional skills sets as a generation of glass processors moved out of the industry.

This was echoed by Vince McDonnell, Glass Designs, who attributed the decline to the increasing automation of process. He argued the focus on volume production had accelerated this trend.

Paul Rogers, Express Glazing, also picked up on the theme. He said: “We need a consistent and standardised training programme, raising the skills set right across the industry. This would give businesses the confidence to invest because everyone is investing – you aren’t simply training people for someone else.”
Philip Pinnington, Glass & Glazing Federation, said the GGF was working with training providers to align training programmes to industry requirements. He picked up on a point also raised by other members that the industry was also struggling to attract new blood, suggesting it should be targeting ‘career-switchers’ as well as school and college leavers.

Despite this, those attending said that they were, nonetheless, confident about the industry’s future, citing Brexit as a not necessarily welcome but far more a ‘bump in the road’ than anything catastrophic.

Glass Design’s Billy Perry, reported that delays to major London commercial and new build contracts meant that order books remained healthy.
“What’s also been happening recently is that we are being asked by existing customers who we have worked with inside London to tender on projects outside of it, for example Manchester,” he said.

The forecast slowdown in foreign investment in London had also not materialised, with many central London developments being sold almost entirely to overseas investors.

Nonetheless, those attending the forum said that they expected the toughening of economic conditions that had accompanied Brexit to continue for the foreseeable future. This had led to a “turning down of the temperature of the London market”, according to Rogers.

Putting Brexit to one side, continuing innovation in glass technology was seen as a key driver of future growth including multi-laminates, security, acoustic and painted glass.

The integrity of the supply chain was also seen as important. The Glass Wipeboard Company’s Aaron Dewhurst, suggested that corporate and commercial clients were increasingly expecting their supply chain to deliver ‘green credentials’.

“One of the things we believe we’re going to see more of is bigger commercial clients and end users expecting their suppliers to be able to demonstrate what they’re doing to minimise the impact of their business on the environment,” he said.

“For example, we’re currently working to reduce our CO2 footprint and collating figures on waste and recycling rates because the companies we’re working with are asking for it and it’s going to be key to winning future business.”

Bohle’s Dave Broxton said there was clear and continuing confidence among glass processors.

“The mood still very positive,” he said. “London continues to provide wide-ranging opportunities and well organised and run businesses are continuing to take advantage of them.

“What is clear, however, is that the industry needs to do more to address the skills gap that increasing automation of process and generational change has created.

“This isn’t unique to our industry and is something which can only be delivered through effective partnership between business, the industry’s representative bodies, and government.”