Fabricators struggle to find and keep employees

Katy Devlin
July 19, 2006

Out of 55 people who attended a recent job fair at Craftsman Fabricated Glass Inc. in Houston, managers only found 11 they would consider for hire. Only eight candidates of the 11 passed the drug test; and the remaining candidates all failed background checks, says Bob Lawrence, president.

“We could not hire one person from that job fair,” Lawrence says. “Getting quality applicants to show up is very difficult.”

A scarcity of applicants comes in part from an entering workforce with less interest in manufacturing jobs, he says. Recruitment for fabricators today extends beyond traditional classified advertisements and now-hiring signs, as owners rely more heavily on methods such as job fairs, seminars and traveling to find applicants, he says.

Despite reaching out and experimenting with recruiting tools, the strong construction economy magnifies the labor shortage, Lawrence says.

Construction in “the whole country is busy,” he says. “Finding employees is a problem. So, we have become creative at enticing quality applicants … and we no longer expect them to have glass experience.”

The shortage hurts fabricators and customers, he says.

For example:

  • Fabricators endure large costs from overtime pay for current employees and must offer higher salaries to attract new workers. While Lawrence estimates that his starting salaries increased 10-to-15 percent since last year, he can’t accurately determine the rise in overtime pay during that time.

  • Customers may receive lower quality end products because managers more frequently settle for new hires that don’t have glass-industry experience and need more extensive training, Lawrence says.

  • As experienced employees take over much of this training, plant efficiency decreases while remakes escalate, he explains.

Rollie Meloy, vice president of sales for Texas Tempered Glass Inc., also of Houston, agreed, adding his hiring standards have "gone down as far as they can go." Hiring inexperienced employees, however, can impair quality, he says.

“In our business, you have to be able to read a tape measure [and] a ticket. You get thousands of pieces of glass going in a day, and a lot of hands touching that glass. If even one [employee] has a problem, quality suffers,” he says.

To compensate, training and retraining employees becomes critical, Meloy says, as are having bilingual supervisors and managers.

Retaining workers can be just as difficult as finding them, Meloy says. “I spend about 80 percent of my time with my personnel just trying to keep people happy,” he says. “You don’t want to get to work with 10 truckloads to go and only two drivers because the rest decided not to show up.”

There is hope for employers in the glass industry, though, says Max Perilstein, vice president of marketing for Arch Aluminum & Glass Co. of Tamarac, Fla. “There is no question that finding good people is a major industry problem, but our industry is strong and stable, unlike many others, and if someone is on the ball they can get in with a company and work there a long time and make a nice living, like it used to be in the steel mills and auto industry.”