Career Pathways: The State of Glass and Glazing as a Trade in 2023

The glass and glazing industry presents rich career opportunities for young adults worldwide, but how does it stack up against other trades?

Starting the Conversation

“The electrical and mechanical unions are doing the job of bringing visibility to their trades,” says Tom Jackson, president and CEO of Steel Encounters Inc. in Salt Lake City, Utah. “There is a lack of visibility into the building trades and apprenticeship opportunities for young people from high school. Honestly, school counselors are steering young people to attend college, which is suitable for many but not for everyone.”

Jackson founded what is now the Utah Glass Association Glazier Apprenticeship Program in 2015. The program is recognized by the Department of Labor and serves as a platform for glazier education in Utah. It is a four-year program that allows glaziers to earn a Journeyman certification, recognized anywhere in the country.

“The experience includes the fabrication and installation of fenestration products—sealants, glass, doors and hardware,” says Jackson, who sits on the management committee. The program’s first 16 students graduated in 2021.

“The classroom [portion] includes laboratory time where they are fabricating storefront curtainwalls, applying door hardware,” Jackson adds. “They also learn building codes, glass and glazing safety codes, fire codes and structural codes. Many of these young people will be in estimating or project management for their companies.”

Jackson says the program’s most effective recruiting has come by word of mouth—not through billboards or presentations from high school counseling offices. He adds that the initiative has been represented in the Utah State-sponsored apprenticeship fair with some success.

The program currently has 46 people from eight different companies participating in 2023. Ten will graduate this spring, 13 in the class of 2024, 10 in the class of 2025 and 13 in the class of 2026.

TikTok—Meet the Trades

“Most people know you can become a carpenter, electrician or plumber because their high school may have offered some courses or they have a relative who was in one of those trades,” says Matt Fox, Glazier Apprenticeship and Training representative at The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) in Hanover, Md. “We’ve recognized for some time that we need to get into high schools to display our craft and start having these conversations earlier.”

Fox works with local directors of training, apprenticeship coordinators and glazing instructors throughout the IUPAT to “continually raise the bar for how we deliver training within the glass industry.”

Kenny Waugh is the director of Industry Liaisons and the Southeast Regional Advisory Board director for Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT), the labor management arm of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.

“Give yourself a shot,” Waugh says of his advice to young adults considering a career in the trades. “Go talk to the apprentice coordinators in your area. Whether its iron working or glazing, see what they have to offer. We always talk about the projects you build, where you can walk away from the job at the end of the day and look back and see what you’ve accomplished.”

Making Trades Traditional

Jeff Dalaba is the program development director for the North American Contractor Certification (NACC) Glazing Contractor Certification Program and the Architectural Glass and Metal Technician (AGMT) Certification Program. An industry veteran of 12 years, Dalaba says the glass and glazing industry provides opportunities for growth that other trades do not, “mainly because of the technical skills required of glaziers.”

“There’s been a lot of press about college debt and the expenses of college,” Dalaba says. “I support going to college and learning in every way, but if there isn’t a well-planned career path after a college degree, it may not lead to a high-paying position. Getting into the trades is a fast track for a young person to get started in an industry that provides a lot of opportunity.”

Student loan borrowers in the United States owe a collective $1.76 trillion in federal and private student loan debt as of September 2022, according to the most recent quarterly tally by the Federal Reserve.

NerdWallet cites that “fifty-five percent of the class of 2020 graduated with student debt, according to the most recent data available from College Board. Among these graduates, the average student loan debt was $28,400.”

Whether a young professional chooses college or the trades, one thing is certain—the glass and glazing industry provides pathways to a successful career.

“It will allow them to have great pride in the workmanship they create,” Dalaba explains. “Every building they drive by or every lobby they go into has glass that was installed by [a glazier]. They can take a great deal of pride in the fact that they helped build that landscape or that skyline.”

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