Part of the Problem

It’s the one problem you hear about over and over again–no matter what size, no matter how old the company. It’s a problem almost every contract glazing company has. And unfortunately, we are part of the reason for it.

By we, in the broadest sense, I mean the construction industry. By we, in the most narrow sense, I mean contract glazing companies.

The problem, of course, is the lack of skilled and qualified labor available to contract glaziers. Time and time again, I hear stories of companies at capacity because they can’t find qualified help. They must turn additional work away because they can’t find qualified people to perform it. And they live in fear of having their workers take advantage of a competitive environment and sell themselves for an extra dollar or two an hour. These same managers lament the lack of professionalism in the glass industry and the lack of loyalty from workers.

But professionalism is a two-way street. Let me explain. Over the years, we’ve done a fair amount of studies and surveys about what the glass industry provides to its workers. Whereas many “professions” either provide or subsidize employee health insurance, that is not the case in many glass companies. The same is true for a variety of other benefits, from life and disability insurance to paid holidays and educational benefits. Workers at glass and metal contractors tend to fare a bit better, but that is not consistent either.

And how many contractors lay-off their employees, even for a day or a half, when work slows or stops? Is it any wonder that those employees don’t think twice about grabbing another dollar or two an hour at the shop across town?

I know about now you are probably ready to shoot the messenger. But don’t be, because I know this is not necessarily your fault.

This problem is much, much broader than the glass and metal industry. It is a construction industry problem. Margins are so tight and costs are such an overriding consideration that no one seems willing to pay companies to develop their workforce for the future. If we want people to invest in the construction trades, the trades have to invest in the people.

Some trades have been relatively successful at this. Plumbers and electricians specifically have been successful at connecting their employees with education and with benefits. It’s easy to see why; these are core trades and no one wants to be without properly functioning electricity and plumbing.

Glass and metal products have become much more sophisticated in the past few years. And the costs to correct defective materials and/or improper installations are among the highest of any trade. Maybe it’s time we help the owners realize that a highly qualified workforce is in their interest, too. And it comes at a price.

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