It’s been an interesting year in the fenestration industry, to say the least. We’ve seen a booming economy, bringing high glass demand and bustling construction activity along with it. Simultaneously, we’ve seen rising material costs, the mounting effects of a glass shortage, and a “new normal” when it comes to low labor availability.
Those issues aren’t necessarily breaking news, but they’ve become more pointed in just the last year. About this time in 2017, USGlass asked its readers if the glass shortage was real. Answers were relatively split—but I think today, most can agree that it’s real, and it’s a major challenge.
The same can be said about our ongoing labor issues. USGlass recently highlighted a new report showcasing the severity of the labor shortage impacting the construction industry as a whole. Sixty-five percent of construction firms reported finding it more difficult to fill installer positions more than a year ago, and ongoing shortages can pose a big risk to future economic growth, the report says. Many contractors reported increasing their base pay, with 25 percent providing new incentives and bonuses in order to help find new people, but the challenge of recruitment and retention remains.
Meanwhile, it’s October, and there’s a wild card still in the deck for 2018: U.S. midterm elections. President Trump’s administration has taken a business-friendly tack in its first two years, but continued trade disputes and back-and-forth tariff measures between America and its trading partners have had their effects, particularly with major building materials such as steel and aluminum. The winds of political change could be stirring, bringing with them some uncertainty.
I’ve said it before: It’s one thing to identify the issues and challenges facing our industry, but it’s another to act on them. Make no mistake, we’re acting. USGlass points out the following: “Methods to reduce on-site worktime such as lean construction and building information modeling (BIM); labor-saving equipment such as drones, robots or 3D printers; and added specialists such as architects or BIM personnel are some ways contractors are replacing workers or skills due to the continued labor shortage.” We’ve also seen this happening as commercial glass manufacturers embrace automation on the plant floor. I’ve also noticed that professional training and certification programs seem to be gaining more traction, building incentives for good people to make a career in fenestration.
But what will become increasingly important, I think, is that we continue to act together, with the best interests of our industry—not our individual selves—driving that momentum. I expect to see that collaboration take place at this year’s glasstec show, happening next week in Dusseldorf, Germany. It’s the biggest fenestration industry tradeshow in the world, and it brings together professionals involved in all parts of the glass value chain.
It’s a great opportunity for the global glass industry to collaborate and identify new plans of action to overcome our toughest challenges. From raw materials supply to fabrication, from design to glazing and construction, continued communication and collaboration are going to continue to drive greater value in high-performance glazing. And it’ll take everyone’s effort.
Joe Erb is commercial sales specialist for Quanex Building Products.