Sustainability of glazing industry threatened by lack of new entrants

The recruitment and retention of shop floor staff combined with a failure to attract younger workers into the industry, threaten the long-term sustainability of the glass and glazing sector, according to commentators.

The warning was made at a roundtable forum discussion hosted by Bohle in Manchester at the end of April.

Attendees argued that while improving skills within the industry was important, it was its failure to appeal to younger workers that represented the greater challenge and threat.

Christina Moorhouse, managing director of Oakland Glass, said: “If we can get the right people with the right attitude, we can train them.  It’s attracting those people in the first place that we find difficult because those people aren’t thinking about a career in glass.”

This was a theme developed by Matthew Kirby, director of distribution for Saint Gobain Glass, who argued that ‘shop floor’ recruitment had become increasingly challenging. “It’s at the maintenance engineer, the driver end – shop floor roles are becoming increasingly difficult to recruit for,” he said.

“We talk about skills but it’s actually about finding people with the right attitude and the right behaviours and who want to work in or handle glass.”

Martin Clarke, manging director of Bootle Glass said that it had struggled to attract younger workers.

“Of the 18 people we have working for us, there is on one who is under 50 – and he’s 28,” he said. “Our guys have a vast amount of knowledge and no one to pass it on to.”

The GGF’s newly appointed head of training and membership Richard Hearn picked up on comments regarding challenges around retention of younger workers.

“You aren’t going to hold on to the right people unless you can offer them a package,” he said. “It’s not just about money but culture, giving people a reason to stay and a career path.”

The Vocational College’s business development manager Paul Gray argued that support was there for companies, but awareness of how to access it was low.

“If you’re a smaller business, the government will fund apprenticeships almost in full, so that you only pay 10%,” he said.

He added that there were initiatives in place to encourage glass companies to invest in training, including the GQA’s new Building Our Skills campaign, which he encouraged the industry to support.

Bohle’s Dave Broxton, who chaired the event, suggested that there were lessons for the UK to draw from Germany, where the glass processing sector had engaged effectively with students and school leavers. He added that the sector was viewed with a higher degree of professionalism, with established training programmes and standards, including its Master Glazier scheme.

When asked by Broxton for suggested actions to improve recruitment, training and retention, responses included a combined effort from industry, representative organisations and the trade media to increase awareness of funding and support for training including funding under the Apprentice Levy.

There were also calls for the GGF to do more to reach out to schools through an educational programme and for businesses to undertake the same task locally.

“What is also clear is that this needs to be accompanied by a concerted effort to reach out to new audiences and to promote glass to young people,” Dave said. “As an individual business we will now commit to do this within those local communities in which we work.”

This topic will be covered in greater detail in future issues of Glass Times.