How to Overcome a Labor Shortage

There’s a similar story being told throughout the building and construction industry. I wrote about it in my last post and why it’s time to start thinking differently about IG production on a broad scale.

Of course, I’m talking about the skilled labor shortage. It was a hot topic at the GANA BEC Conference, which I attended in early February. Though the conference primarily targets commercial glass and curtainwall installers, many conversations mirrored those we’ve been having in the manufacturing space recently. How do we attract new talent? How do we transfer decades of institutional knowledge to a new generation of workers?

While it’s true that advancements in technology have enabled glass fabricators to weather the labor shortage in certain ways, we’re not immune to the labor shortage. Recruiting and retaining skilled workers remain critical challenges for any glass fabricator—and anyone in the fenestration industry at large.

Easier said than done, right? Especially when recruiting millennials to manufacturing positions—across all sectors—has proven an uphill battle. According to the Wall Street Journal, there will be an estimated 2 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2025, and it’s millennials who must be convinced to fill them.

Part of what we’re facing here is a perception problem. It’s become apparent that traditional manufacturing and installation jobs are unattractive to a younger generation, so it’s up to us to engage with these potential employees to show them the benefits and change that perception. There is money to be made, there are good incentives, and there is room for growth for those willing to put in the effort.

Also, as later noted in the Wall Street Journal piece, “For millennials choosing careers today, the most sought-after industry is technology.” It’s here that I sense another way in which the fenestration industry’s strengths may play well to the oncoming challenge.

We’ve seen how technology is transforming our industry, as high-speed automation has revolutionized some of our traditional manufacturing processes, allowing us to maximize labor in the face of a shortage. There are emerging ways to optimize these systems, taking advantage of new software solutions to streamline our processes from beginning to end. Robotics and automation itself require specific, technical know-how.

We need to communicate that our industry is one that is moving forward, looking ahead, and utilizes new and emerging technologies. For both recruiting and retention purposes, it’s worth considering partnerships with trade schools or universities to extend your influence with potential employees and as an investment in your current ones.

An investment, yes—but a worthwhile one to make as we forge ahead. What I found at the BEC Conference was a sense of camaraderie. Yes, though competition is fierce, we’re working together and sharing best practices to overcome a shared challenge. Our industry is alive and ready for growth, and there’s something in that for all of us.

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