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The glass industry tackles labor challenges by rethinking its approach; redefining its image

07/13/2018

The problem is clear: the construction industry is booming at a time when labor is scarce. The causes are just as well-known: experienced workers are retiring faster than new hires can fill jobs, and skills are going with them; young people aren’t interested in the trades, nor do they possess the necessary skills. But what’s the solution?

Many companies have altered internal hiring and training practices to combat the challenges to varying degrees of success. Organizations supporting manufacturing and construction started implementing training initiatives and marketing campaigns to combat the issues.

The conversation is buzzing, but the pace and impact for specific trades, such as glass and glazing, falter. Companies need workers now, and a solution for growth into the future.

How to Get Connected and Sell the Industry

  • Contact local high schools.
  • Get connected with guidance departments.
  • Broadcast the benefits of a job in the industry through social media and video content.
  • Consider how younger people like to communicate and meet them there.
  • Offer to give lectures, career advice or help with activities at area schools.
  • Volunteer for Junior Achievement USA.
  • Speak with a class about resumés and interviewing.
  • Partner with a technical college.
  • Donate materials or time to help students with projects.
  • Participate in a job fair.
  • Leverage local trades organizations and building associations.
  • Work with schools to set up facility and jobsite tours.
  • Publish in local publications looking for human interest stories.
  • Connect with local government to find programs and funding.
  • Collaborate with trades business partners.

Many employers find that a whole new approach is required and are getting proactive about reversing the shrinking workforce. Companies are finding workers in nontraditional places and training them on their own. They are addressing new hire expectations and false industry assumptions head-on. It starts by getting in front of young people and redefining what it means to work in the trades.

“There’s a significant shortage. We have an aging workforce … plus, people are building. There’s not a perfect answer that fixes things overnight, but working with schools and getting exposure is the first step,” says Ryan Foley, vice president of field operations, H.J. Martin and Son.

Change the Approach

Sources say that it’s much harder now to fill positions with the right people than it was in the past. Companies must be willing to adjust their recruiting approach to find quality candidates and prepare them well for a job in the trades.

“Five to 10 years ago, we had all the help we could get, even when we needed experience,” says Jane Kessel, vice president of human resources, Linetec. “But that’s harder to come by now. We … are not in a position to continue doing the same thing. We must evolve to be attractive to the new labor market.”

Foley agrees with the necessity of a new mindset when it comes to recruitment, particularly of young people. “Challenge the idea that young people don’t want to work,” he says. “Our approach needs to change. Everyone skilled needed the skills at some point. Technical machines and processes, using technology, that’s a place to support the generational differences.”

Some in the industry look to reach potential hires at high schools, technical schools and career fairs. Wausau Window & Wall Systems provides career presentations for technical education classes at area high schools, and conducts mock interviews at local middle schools, high schools and technical colleges to support its community while promoting the industry and jobs at Wausau. And, faced with fierce job placement competition, Technoform Glass Insulationhas, within the last year, partnered with area technical schools and community colleges, rethinking its approach to recruitment and differentiating to find needed employees. Company employees also attend career fairs to find potential job candidates, where existing trainees within the team speak with prospective candidates or have conversations with students.

Companies are also partnering with high school technical-education courses and technical colleges to provide hands-on training and resources. H.J. Martin and Son’s field trainer Bruce Litke, for example, provides instruction to students as an in-kind donation.

“Opening their eyes is where things start,” says Foley. “By being in the classroom and teaching, I can see they’re interested, and they had no idea this was a viable career path. If we can get their interest now, when they graduate or something else doesn’t work out, we’re in the back of their mind.”

Similarly, through Junior Achievement USA, Linetec’s human resources staff partner with area high schools to show how people are successful on the job at Linetec with basic soft skills training. “There’s a community service angle to it and it gives us a presence in the labor market. Sometimes you don’t even understand how it will pay off,” says Kessel.

Many glass industry companies are new to this method of recruitment and face an uphill battle, sources say. At the same time, most don’t see a choice. “We recognize the importance of getting students interested in a career in manufacturing early. As the market for talent grows increasingly tighter, we need to find different avenues to identify and attract talent,” says Kari Brunette, senior human resources generalist, Wausau.

Many businesses are also adjusting the way they market their companies to potential hires. To that end, Technoform developed a marketing campaign to sell itself, just as it would its products. “We have a unique culture and we now have to shout it from the rooftops because we are in such competition for these jobs. We need to change how we communicate with [students],” says Helen Sanders, strategic business development for Technoform.

This new marketing brochure for recruitment, specifically targeted to millennials, answers why a young person would want to work for Technoform, marketing its collaborative culture, flexible work environment and global reach as well as the opportunities available within manufacturing.

To further promote careers in the industry and within their own companies, Wausau and Linetec provide tours of their facilities to high school students from partnering area schools.

“We are seeing co-op [college] students who are applying because they toured our facility in high school and remembered it being a clean, safe, good place to work,” says Brunette. “It definitely takes time to build the awareness and the pipeline, but we are seeing it work.”

Change the Expectation

In addition to changing how they connect with prospective job candidates, industry companies are adjusting their new hire mindset, and investing time to build successful employees from the ground up.

“Stay open to the possibilities of what students can do,” says Brunette. “They are capable of coming in and performing more quickly than many would expect. At the same time, be prepared that students will require more coaching on basic work expectations. Most of them have never worked anywhere else, so they need to learn those basic skills when they first get started.”

These basic skills and expectations include the importance of attendance and timeliness, dress code, company values, courteous work habits and clear communication. “The way you turn an 18-year-old into a good worker is different than how you would a 30-year-old,” says Kessel. “They’re talented, but they don’t have enough life experience. We have had to adjust our onboarding process to work with them more before they hit the ground running.”

About four years ago, H.J. Martin and Son began considering hires from the younger labor pool, as it considered how to replace its retiring company leadership. “It takes years to get that developed, to the point [new hires] can make the transition and become a leader,” says Foley. “You have to get someone in that will make it a commitment—learn a craft, learn the hard skills.”

Through its involvement with area schools and technical colleges, the company found successful employees, but they didn’t possess skills directly correlated to the job at hand. “We are looking for good people, with an ability to work with their hands and with tools, with awareness of their surroundings, and a mechanical aptitude to build,” says Foley.

The time investment to develop new, unskilled hires into hardworking, committed and well-trained employees is immense. But for many in the industry, there’s no choice. “We don’t have the luxury to not tap this labor market,” says Kessel. She also points out that, while building a new recruitment and training model is an investment, it’s a trade-off, of sorts. “We used to spend time screening and selecting, now we’re spending time reaching the hard to reach. Invest more time up front, then train quicker and they’re productive. That’s success.”

Change the Perception

For companies investing in such grassroots approaches to recruiting, the battle to find and train people goes beyond the individual company and means more than simply filling jobs. Glass industry companies are realizing that future success requires a shift in public perception.

“People do not appreciate the opportunities available in manufacturing. And they think it’s a dying industry,” says Sanders. “We need support from [schools] plus local governments to help move away from the current focus on encouraging high school graduates to take four-year degrees to one where [other] options … are both encouraged and equally valued.”

Glass and glazing company owners and executives are beginning to have conversations about the entrepreneurial and career-minded path within the industry, but more is needed. The benefits and opportunities, relief from debt, the technological advances and sense of accomplishment that result from trade careers—these should be broadcast to change perceptions of parents, students and educators.

“Not everyone is meant to go to school,” Foley says. “This is our business, this is our industry and we believe in it. There are a lot of people who have made great careers and there’s opportunity here. By taking pride in this industry and showing others what’s possible here, long-term, we may change the narrative of the industry.”

Foley says tours of impressive jobsites is one of the quickest ways to change someone’s perception of the industry, and it works as a recruitment tool, too. “Every time we’ve done it, we get a great response. It’s fun to see their eyes widen and watch how someone’s mindset can change just by seeing what we do.”

Similarly, after Linetec has offered facility tours, students report being surprised by the reality of a manufacturing plant. “The view of manufacturing is that it’s hard, dirty work,” Kessel says. “It’s key to get students inside our plant: they see happy workers, equipment to do heavy lifting, technological advances.”

Sources say manufacturing and the trades do not receive the exposure with young people like other careers. Concerted grassroots recruitment and marketing efforts from all aspects of the national industry are needed to change perceptions. But, it can start within glass and glazing industry businesses, by prioritizing company culture and quality to improve the image from the inside out.

By Bethany Stough, Editor for Glass Magazine
https://glassmagazine.com/article/commercial/grassroots-approach-1817851