Glaziers Wanted

Forecasted employment growth could create skilled labor shortage
Katy Devlin
August 20, 2013
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION : CLOSER LOOK

Glaziers are in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, glazier employment is projected to grow 42 percent from 2010 to 2020, a much faster rate than the average for all occupations. Driven by the popularity of glass exterior façades, as well as the energy efficiency improvements of glass and windows, U.S. glazier employment is expected to increase from 41,900 in 2010 to 59,600 in 2020, according to BLS. This means 17,700 new jobs and 15,700 replacement jobs will need to be filled. (See Fig. 1.)

Employment of glaziers is projected to grow 42 percent from 41,000 in 2010 to 59,600 in 2020. This is a much faster growth rate than the average for all occupations, and represents 17,000 new jobs and 15,700 replacement jobs. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Much of the growth in the segment is still to come. According to BLS, as of May 2012, the glazing sector had only increased marginally from 2010 levels, to 42,350 jobs. If 2020 projections are accurate, U.S. contract glaziers will need to drastically increase their ranks in the coming years.

This could prove quite difficult for companies in the post-recessionary construction industry. Construction employment was hit hard during the recession—much worse than overall employment. While overall unemployment levels reached 9.7 percent in July 2010, unemployment in the construction sector reached 17.3 percent, according to Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. (See Fig. 2.)

While the construction sector started gradually adding jobs in early 2011, the extensive and sharp recessionary losses likely drove workers from the sector, Simonson says. “Employment declined until January 2011 and shrank by 2.2 million employees, or 30 percent of the peak number,” Simonson says. “With such a steep and long-lasting decline, it is likely that most workers who lost jobs have moved on to other industries, returned to school, retired, left the workforce, or perhaps even left the U.S.”

Many glazing firm executives say they are watching out for the anticipated shortages. “It is clear the [glazing] labor market is tightening up,” says Mic Patterson, director of strategic development, Enclos Corp. “We are tracking emerging conditions and anticipate the potential for future [labor] shortages. But right now, we are fine.”As a result, “It may take only a relatively small upturn in demand for worker shortages to become more widespread and acute,” Simonson says. “But, it hasn’t happened yet, in most segments, crafts or regions.”

Shortage of Skill

While many glazing firms report they are currently able to find sufficient labor, they struggle to find skilled, trained glaziers—craftspeople. “There is a shortage of skilled everything,” says Bill Wilson, president, Specified Systems.

Benjamin Feinn, co-owner and CEO of Koch Corp., agrees. “The lack of skilled trades people affects every trade, not just glaziers,” he says.

Adam Holmes, general manager at AMG Architectural Glass and Glazing, says his company is also experiencing a skilled labor shortage. “The uncertainty in volume of future work due to the economy downturn has played a major role in the shortage of skilled labor workers in the glass and glazing industry,” he says.

Overall U.S. unemployment levels reached 9.7 percent in July 2010, while unemployment in the construction sector was 17.3 percent. Source:Associated General Contractors of America, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Holmes attributes the skilled labor shortage, in part, to a decline in trade school and apprenticeship programs. “Trades are not given fair exposure to students in most schools. ... The construction industry in general will continue to face challenges in finding skilled workers as job seekers’ abilities will not match up with the employers’ needs,” he says.

Simonson says the recession created a decline in construction education. “Enrollment in construction academies, community college and apprentice programs dropped sharply as enrollees found there was no work when they completed the programs,” he says.

A lack of trained installers could easily translate to lost profits or lost bids. “The shortage of skilled glaziers on jobsites continues to manifestas there is an inability to withstand the ever- changing technological and industrial advancements in the construction industry,” Holmes says. “The increase in simple errors and in the inability to identify and resolve these errors continues to cause future warranty claims.

“A continued shortage of skilled glaziers will cause lower quality workmanship and decreased output equating to slower project progress, which will cause an increase in costs,” he says. “It will also follow the rules of supply and demand; to hire a qualified glazier will cost the glazing contractor more, who in turn will need to determine if it can afford to absorb the increased costs or pass them onto the general contractor/owner.”

Hiring and Retaining Quality Employees

Glazing firm executives offer a number of recommendations for keeping skilled installers, as well as educating and training new entrants to the field.

Feinn says Koch Corp. works to keep a group of skilled employees on staff and busy throughout the year. “A company may not recognize the value of keeping the same workers year after year,” he says. “We have a core group of glaziers, carpenters and ironworkers who we keep busy all year—they are all but guaranteed a steady paycheck. The labor needs above this group are hired in for that job only. Our longstanding employees can then easily integrate the unskilled workers in with our long-term employees.”

Firms can also reach out to outside training programs. “There has to be more influence on the school systems to promote skilled trade jobs. There needs to be direction for young people to acquire the proper training,” Wilson says.

Holmes agrees, recommending that companies get involved in training and mentoring programs, either by working with local schools, or by developing an in-house program. “To reverse this trend, companies can create and gain exposure in schools by partnering with local high schools, colleges, and technical schools that allow for exposure of other career paths that are out there for those who are not planning or interested in attending a four-year school, but do have an interest in educating themselves in the form of a trade,” he says. “Implementing formal training and mentor programs in the glass and glazing industry trade will allow for seasoned employees to take on more complex tasks as well as share their knowledge with those that are new to the trade. Formal training for those that are new to the industry will allow for superior craftsmanship. Another key component companies can implement is using a rotating trade structure so that workers are able to learn additional skill sets in the industry.”

Several glass industry executives add that unions can offer important skill and safety training. “We work with union guys, so they are amenable to investing in their own future for the most part,” Wilson says. “When you work trades, the work load is dynamic. If you are going to sustain workers, you need to be steady with inflows of contracts. That is why the union works well. If you are down for a couple of weeks, the guys can pick up with someone else. Plus, they have good benefits packages and that is what it takes to retain employees.”

Finally, make the workplace enjoyable and fulfilling. “Making the work environment an enjoyable place and accommodating employees’ needs will entice them to work harder and stay on board with their current company and continue to deliver quality craftsmanship,” Holmes says.

Katy Devlin is editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at kdevlin@glass.org.