Keeping Focus on the Human Element

A few weeks ago, while visiting one of our commercial glass customers in Texas, I had a few minutes to chat with the company’s human resources manager whom I met a few years ago during an open house event. Since that time, we’ve spoken on several occasions, and conversations have ranged from work related challenges to family, faith and hobbies.

During this particular trip, we got to talking about some of the labor challenges that their company, like many, continue to face. But the conversation went a little deeper this time. This HR manager views her job not simply through the lens of finding good, capable people to fulfill specific job descriptions—but through that of truly helping and elevating their understanding of the important part they play in the big picture. To her, finding candidates that might be needing a second chance, or are otherwise down on their luck, is also an important part of how she views her role as HR manager.

I bring up this anecdote because it struck me that, while it’s easy to get caught up in the latest trends and technologies surrounding automation and digital information, when you get down to it, this is still very much a business driven by people. You may have invested in an automated line—but that line doesn’t work without human involvement. And with that investment comes the responsibility to foster that human element in your plant.

But of course, it’s not so simple. In fact, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges any fenestration shop faces in today’s environment.

I wrote about investing in the employee of the future a few months ago, but it’s about more than fostering new skill sets. Are we taking the time to really communicate how new technologies and capabilities are impacting shop floor work? Are we making it clear that automation enhances jobs, rather than replaces jobs? Are we demonstrating how some of these technologies can help make jobs safer?

We also must consider some generational gaps that are at play when it comes to our labor. As of 2015, millennials surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the workforce—and more and more, we’re depending on those younger workers to help get quality products out the door. For those of us who’ve been in the industry for a while, it’s easy to get stuck in “old school” ways of thinking. Whether it’s specific expectations of performance or job preferences, having an open mind can go a long way—and it can help us connect with workers at a time when that’s so important.

Speaking of human connection, it’s just about tradeshow season. I’ll be at the GlassBuild show in Atlanta, September 12-14, and I’ll be giving a few educational presentations revolving around some subject matter I’ve covered on this blog. You can find out more about the sessions here. I hope to see you there!

 Joe Erb is a commercial sales specialist at Quanex Building Products.