Looking Forward in 2018

As I sat down to write my first post of this new year, I had just read “A Healthy Market: Construction Economists Diagnose Further Expansion Through 2018” in the most recent issue of USGlass. The commercial building and multifamily housing markets are looking strong as we start 2018, with a nice balance between new construction and renovation work being done, and that’s reason for the glass industry to start the year with some optimism.

And it’s not the only reason. The economy is healthy, and many manufacturers have made investment in their operations. Meanwhile, after unforeseen challenges that disrupted the industry supply of float glass in 2017, we’re starting to see a return to some normalization.

There are plenty of positives, and I’m expecting an exciting year for our industry. But with new opportunity for growth comes the need to overcome challenges—and from that perspective, I’m expecting 2018 to be more about evolution than drastic change.

New approaches to labor issues. Consider what most everyone in our industry has been dealing with for a while now: ongoing labor challenges. We’ll continue adding automation where it makes sense, but at the end of the day, people remain our most important asset. In 2018, if the market remains healthy and grows as expected, I think we’ll see some new and creative ways organizations undertake to retain their employees.

What ways? I’ve heard increasing chatter about apprentice programs for skilled labor positions, allowing organizations to cultivate talent. Consider any skilled job in our industry—if we can’t find a candidate with the necessary skills, perhaps it makes sense to invest in that person that fits your culture and develop the skillset they need from the ground up.

Elsewhere, it’s time to consider how we compensate our employees at all levels. Whether it’s in the form of salary, benefits or bonuses, people value compensation. That won’t change with generational shifts in the labor force, and we need to make sure there’s a compelling reason to choose a career in fenestration over other sectors.

Technological adoption. Many made the investment in automated equipment last year, and that will likely continue into 2018. In many cases, it might even be a necessity to remain competitive in a growing market. If supply is there and demand is growing, glass fabricators must be able to meet quality and delivery needs to succeed.

And where automated equipment already exists, there’s potential for greater sophistication. Software and integration systems continue to evolve at a rapid clip, and more manufacturers across industries are taking advantage. I suspect we’ll continue seeing advancements in these areas as fabricators become more comfortable with and leverage the full capabilities of the systems.   Clear, concise and real-time communication up and down the supply chain will be more important than ever to succeed in 2018.

Like any year, I’m sure we’ll see some unexpected mergers and acquisitions, and I’m sure we’ll have some surprising twists and turns along the way, but for most in our industry, 2018 should be a solid year.