Since Glass Magazine started reporting on the glass industry labor shortage in mid-2013, the issue has changed from a concern over finding qualified glaziers to an industry-wide need for good workers. Glass fabricators, metal companies, machine manufacturers and glazing firms report having trouble finding employees to fill positions from machine operators to engineers. But what hasn’t changed is the common complaint regarding the current labor pool: underqualified and uninterested.
“The shortage of skilled workers on jobsites continues to manifest as there is an inability to withstand the everchanging technological and industrial advancements in the construction industry,” said Heidi Sandstrom, marketing director for MG McGrath, in the 2014 Top Metal Companies report.
To combat the growing labor shortage, numerous glass industry companies have implemented innovative hiring strategies in the last few years. Some hire veterans. Some recruit refugees. Others have started internships or in-house training programs. And while it may not have been the goal at the outset of implementing these uncommon hiring strategies, all of the companies that have report an increase in qualified applicants for their growing lists of open jobs.
Enhancing the workplace environment
As with any industry, it can be difficult to differentiate one company from the next within the glazing industry. Pay rates and job responsibilities are fairly standard. During the labor shortage, many glazing industry companies have worked hard to make the work environment the differentiator.
“We have found that candidates are interested not only in their earnings potential, but they also place an equal amount of value on how the company treats and develops its people,” says Jack Williams, director of product marketing for EFCO Corp.
Leadership at Giroux Glass, agrees. The company is working toward becoming 100 percent employee owned by 2021. Barbara Kotsos, director of marketing/public relations for Giroux, explains that the benefits of employee ownership coupled with Giroux’s management style of involving its employees (partners at Giroux) in decision-making at the job level, and sharing financial information with the partners, makes Giroux more productive and healthy. The environment is what keeps Giroux’s partners loyal, she says.
“The average partner has stayed with Giroux 15 years. We’ve even had many leave and come back after experiencing work at other companies,” says Kotsos. “Every person here has a vested stake in the success of every project, and everyone cares about the company’s success.”
Internships and in-house training
Key to addressing the industry’s workforce challenge is recruiting young people, and several industry companies have established internships and high school or college recruitment programs to boost interest in glazing and glass and metal manufacturing.
Officials from Giroux Glass say the company is beginning to recruit students studying construction man- agement for an on-the-job training internship with the company. While the company has had an informal internship program for years, with several past interns now veteran partners, it is implementing a formal program in part to combat the difficulty in finding qualified job candidates.
“Our biggest challenges are with recruiting experienced office staff who are a culture fit and with the limited available labor pool,” says Kotsos. “There is definitely a shortage of highly skilled glaziers, so recruiting and hiring enough qualified workers for our field force is a consistent issue. Giroux has had positive experiences with training and promoting highperforming glaziers as project managers and beyond.”
Companies report that the trouble with finding employees is that candidates are not properly trained, nor do they have the desire to get involved in this industry.
“If we can get them when they’re fresh out of school, they’re eager and open to learn our ways of doing things. Giving students the chance to be involved, hands-on, with an internship project could be the experience that hooks them to the point of wanting to stay,” Kotsos continues. “Of course it gives us the chance to identify the students we want to keep, too.”
Similarly, management at Wausau Window & Wall Systems, has seen the lack of interest in manufacturing among the younger generation first-hand. In response, it is building a workforce that’s passionate about manufacturing from the ground up.
“We want the next generation to be introduced to and excited about manufacturing,” says Jim Waldron, president, during a recent interview with Glass Magazine. “In central Wisconsin, we join with other manufacturers to host high school students for the annual Heavy Metal Tour. We also partner with the local colleges, [and] host community career fairs and open houses at our facility.”
Recruiting veterans and refugees
Companies are also looking beyond schools to find good workers, including among former members of the military.
The Associated General Contractors of America, www.agc.org, has been leading a charge to help recruit veterans into the construction industry, partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes Program to recruit, train and hire veterans transitioning from service to civilian life. AGC is working to help meet the construction industry’s goal to add 100,000 veterans into the workforce over the next five years.
During a recent webinar, AGC hosted Hiring Our Heroes spokespeople to discuss the logistics of the program, and the benefits in place to “help the construction industry continue to grow and thrive,” according to Sarah Gallegos, associate director for AGC Headquarters.
Jennifer Giering, director of business and state engagement for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes program, says, “Military careers directly line up with construction jobs, from architects and engineers to basic construction workforce. Military personnel show leadership, they’re mission-focused, drug free, physically fit and punctual. Studies show veterans are more productive than civilian counterparts, and they’re staying with employers longer.”
Giering suggests that construction industry companies focus on service men and women’s military occupational specialty—the job service members are responsible for during their military careers. Skills developed through these specialties within the military are often very transferrable to a civilian job, just defined in different terms and performed in a different environment, according to Giering.
The refugee community can also be a good place to recruit new workers. Fabricator of architectural glass and aluminum systems, Exact Finish Inc., began working with World Relief in September 2013 to hire refugees settled in the Kernersville, North Carolina, area. World Relief works in partnership with the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide initial resettlement and placement as well as employment, education and legal services to refugees entering the United States.
Over the last several years, EFI has grown by 75 percent. With its quick growth, the company hit a wall in terms of finding the right candidates to fill the increasing list of open jobs. “We had plenty of applications, but the quality was lacking,” says Jeanne Clary, finance and human resource director for EFI. However, since the company began working with World Relief, EFI has alleviated any problems with filling job openings, according to company officials.
EFI now employs 33 refugees—44 percent of its workforce. “EFI is a unique business that the average individual does not ‘go to school’ to learn what we do,” says Clary. “The type of employees we look for are of good character, hardworking, want to do a good job, reliable, honest and eager to learn and be taught new skills.”
Refugees at EFI fill positions from basic laborers to shift supervisors and quality managers, Clary says.
Obstacles exist—the language barrier being the most immediate—and training sometimes takes a bit longer. However, Clary notes the company has reduced its turnover by over 75 percent since 2013, reducing training costs, human resources activity, etc. “The culture we strive to build at EFI has only been enhanced [by hiring refugees],” she says.
Hartung Glass Industries also recruits area refugees through its local World Relief office in Seattle. Laura Cowan, human resources manager, says candidates the company has recruited from World Relief are reliable and eager to work. “[Refugees] help us fill positions that aren't easily filled otherwise, and we are able to fill positions fairly quickly.”
Where to Recruit
- Local school job boards
- Social media
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
- Local World Relief program
- Hiring Our Heroes
- Local Chamber of Commerce
- Networking through Society of Human Resource Management
Tips for Hiring Veterans
- Get referrals from veterans already within your company
- Join a hiring fair, or utilize a virtual job scout
- Use the Hiring Our Heroes Personal Branding Resume Engine to search for veterans by location, job level or keyword
- Work with military transition officers
- Take advantage of resources the government has to offer
- Find veterans with construction-related skills through Helmets to Hardhats
- Use Hiring Our Heroes resources to help write job descriptions and learn what questions to ask to attract veterans
SOURCE: The Associated General Contractors Hiring Our Heroes: Best Practices for Construction Employers webinar from December 2014, www.agc.org.