To Survive the Evolving Industry, Change the Way You Train

By Ellen Rogers

If someone asks, “Why are we doing it this way?” and you answer, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” your business could be in serious trouble. From people to processes to products, the glass and glazing industry is changing and in order to survive, companies need to change, too. It’s that serious.

Take Donald Theune, for example. He isn’t the typical corporate safety instructor. He doesn’t walk into a classroom, hand out copies of standard operating procedures, and then show everyone how to adjust the straps on their goggles. Why? Despite the fact that it’s always been that way, these days, Theune says, those methods just aren’t cutting it.

“Companies have spent millions of dollars on trainings, audits and equipment. Nonetheless, accidents and injuries continue to defy the best efforts of safety managers everywhere,” Theune suggests. He says the number one cause of workplace accidents—and most any accident—is a lack of focus. That’s why his company, Donnic Consulting Group, begins with a top-down evaluation of company culture, before giving everyone from the CEO to factory workers lessons in mindfulness.

“Our trainings aren’t the usual didacticism,” Theune says. “As instructors, we don’t get up in front of the room and say, do this, do that, do this, do that.” Instead, he aims to, “reach employees as well as supervisors and managers at deep, personal levels.”

Through a two-year process, every employee is trained to communicate effectively, to intervene in situations without intimidating, to take greater responsibility and to be more accountable for the safety of their co-workers. That’s a far cry from the do’s and don’ts of standard operating procedures, he admits.

Many fabricators, contract glaziers, and other glass industry companies are also taking a new approach to the way they train their employees. While safety remains a critical component, companies are finding there are other elements essential to building and maintaining a solid workforce.

Day One on the Job

Just as no two companies are the same, neither is their approach to training. Owatonna, Minn.-based Viracon, for example, follows the Training Within Industry (TWI) methodology. This program, developed through the TWI Institute, is designed to provide hands-on learning and practice, and is geared toward educating and training supervisors, team leaders, and anyone who directs the work of others. The program is focused on Lean and continuous improvement.

According to training manager Neal Hemminger, the company has developed training plans for the majority of its production/manufacturing positions.

So what’s a typical first day or week like at Viracon? It starts with a lot of learning and understanding.

“The majority of our entry level positions are glass handlers. On their second day it becomes hands-on and we teach them to handle glass safely,” says Hemminger. “Eventually they go to their specific area to be trained with a current operator. In week two, they begin their first shift. Employees can move up by applying internally to machine operator positions and the hiring supervisor determines who has the analytical skills to operate the equipment.”

No matter how well they can do the job, they still have to be safe, which makes safety training critical—and that starts the first week.

“We teach them that they need to respect the glass,” says Hemminger. Other measures include assessing an employee’s ability to drive a forklift, along with monthly safety trainings, including some through OSHA.

John Dwyer, president of Syracuse Glass in Syracuse, N.Y., adds that maintaining a positive, safe work experience is one of the primary responsibilities of his company’s management team.

“Our ongoing training, especially regarding safety, is one of the best tools we have to help us achieve this goal to keep our operating and supervisory practices as good as they can be,” he says, adding that they’ve recently completed the OSHA 30-hour Construction Training Course for the plant leadership team and they do a safety refresher training every winter.

For Tom Jackson, president of Steel Encounters in Salt Lake City, training is the key to developing an expert team of shop and field personnel. Since November of last year, Steel Encounters has taken its shop environment through a continuous improve journey and put its entire fabrication facility through Lean training and implemented many Lean principles, including 5S training.

“It looks like a different facility,” says Jackson.

Investing in employees and training has always been an important focus for Jackson, and he’s recently taken that a step further. He and his company have developed a glazier apprenticeship program that’s now recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“We put 18 glaziers through it last year and added a second class of 25 new cohorts including 18 from other companies this fall. Our program incorporates trade skills, industry knowledge, glass and glazing building codes, knowledge on glass and aluminum, thermal performance, and installation techniques,” says Jackson. “We have a robust training program and all will graduate with OSHA 30.”

Jackson believes there’s more to training than simply teaching someone how to do a job. Life skills are also essential.

“The biggest change [in the way we train] was moving past just trade and technical knowledge to the future, 10 to 15 years out,” he says. “To win in the future you need to look at the person and help the person have a solid, holistic life outlook. Twenty percent of our program is based on life skills, including the Prime for Life training for freedom from dependence on drug and alcohol addictions, leadership skills, and a financial wellness class taught by Mountain America Credit Union teaching money management skills, such as budgeting, planning for retirement, and getting out of debt. This portion of the training is so important that we invite the apprentices’ spouses to attend.”

He adds, “If they [employees] can manage money well, if they have skills to cope with life and to communicate they will be better off overall as a person and it will make them better employees We will have employees with skills to win at life.”

Embrace the Differences

As companies address recruiting, hiring and training new employees, they also have to consider that today’s incoming workforce (i.e. Millennials and Generation Z) approach learning differently compared to their older counterparts.

“It just boils down to being different,” says Hemminger, explaining that the younger workforce tends to be more visual compared to older generations. “The new equipment is more visual and that’s something the younger generation picks up on quickly. A lot of the visualization makes sense to them, because they’ve dealt with it their whole life.”

Dwyer agrees and says they’ve also added more pictures and diagrams to their training materials, along with better graphics, which are clearer and more attractive than previous versions.

Millennials and Generation Z also want more of a big picture understanding of why they are doing something.

“I think today more than ever they [the younger workforce] want to know why—why am I doing this and how does it affect me?” says Jackson. “Millennials are looking for the real understanding; you need to explain why it’s important. They won’t all buy in, but we have some hard, hard workers who are millennials and they are hungry for knowledge and hungry to learn. They want to win, but if it’s not authentic they won’t buy in.”

Martha Ontiveros, human resources director for Permasteelisa North America in Windsor, Conn., agrees there are differences in training a younger employee compared to someone from an older generation. She says when they hire an experienced employee, this is typically someone with facades experience.

“For them, the focus isn’t only on technical training but also in the ways of Permasteelisa—our internal processes and tools, etc. It all starts from the beginning of an employee’s career with onboarding so they understand how all the functions within the company work; the culture of the company.”

For the younger generation, mentoring is a big part of the process.

“A good portion of the mentoring sessions focus on the leaders because we want to make sure they know the generational differences and the best way to communicate with millennials and Generation Z,” she says. “Part of that is communication, and doing so effectively with other generations. We want to make sure our leadership is ready to lead this next generation, because millennials make up about 60% of our workforce. I think the [younger] generation wants to connect the job to its daily purpose and that involves project assignments and short-term assignments. They want to see what they are creating and the bigger impact.”

Changing It All Up

Over the past couple of years, automation has become a big focus for many companies. As a result, the change in operations has also brought a need to re-think traditional means and methods of production training.

As Viracon has shifted toward increasingly automated production, it’s brought with it a new way of thinking. While the machinery manufacturers do provide training (see related article on page 64), Viracon has also done its own additional training.

“It’s not just the production operators, but also maintenance. There was a learning curve with a lot of the new automation,” says Hemminger. “What really changed is that the traditional equipment maintenance person is now teetering on learning and understanding whether [an issue] is really in the software or if it’s truly a mechanical problem.”

New equipment and operating systems also mean changing old habits.

“There were some growing pains in understanding whether something is software or mechanical,” says Hemminger. “We’ve crossed that bridge for the most part now and know where to go as far as trouble shooting.”

He adds, “The industry is changing rapidly. Automation has grown leaps and bounds and we’re working to train people [for this]. People need to understand what is happening behind the scene; this troubleshooting is a new skillset that wasn’t as necessary before in some of our positions.”

John Ryba, technical services manager for Quanex Building Products, says well-trained employees have always been critical to the glass and glazing industry, but today, proper training might be more important than ever before.

“The technologies we’re using to manufacture quality products are changing. Larger, more complex glass projects are taking place all over the world. People are retiring, and labor continues to be an ongoing challenge,” says Ryba. “We need to make sure we’re building the proper skillsets within our workforce in order to be successful, and that we’re providing the right incentives for employees to want to learn.”

“It’s not just the technical acumen on how to fabricate an insulating glass unit, or how to work with automated equipment. Many shops today are fully integrated. So what happens if the network or Wi-Fi goes down? IT knowledge among floor employees can help stop lost dollars from production downtime.”

Companies are also finding their workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, with not all employees speaking English.

“We have four languages spoken here: English, Spanish, Somali and Karen so we have hired a number of translators over the years,” says Hemminger. “We’ve tried to put those who speak certain languages together as much as possible while balancing the diversity of crews to ensure a balance of employees’ experience and skill levels.”

He adds, “We’re working on getting some of those individual into more operator positions because there’s a lot of talent out there, and we want to help them grow within Viracon.”

Syracuse Glass is also taking steps to work more with a multi-lingual staff, and now provides more of its training materials in Spanish.

The industry’s training is shifting—away from the do’s and don’ts of yesterday’s text books, and toward an interconnected sense of meaning.

Whatever direction a company takes toward training, Jackson stresses it’s critical to take the time to think it through first.

“If you’re going to do this you need to take the time to lay out a plan and map what’s appropriate,” he says. “And remember, not everyone is hungry. When pre-selecting invitees for development in a program like this, you want to invest in those who are hungry to learn.”

Preparing for Future Generations

An internship is a great way for college students to learn about an industry or career path that could offer future opportunities. Permasteelisa North America is one company that’s had a lot of success from its internship program. The company began the program several years ago through its Minnesota operations, and this past summer expanded it to the East Coast.

“One of our talent management objectives has been to promote deployment to support career growth for our employees in North America,” says Martha Ontiveros, human resources director. “To do this, we continue to strengthen our pipeline with recruiting of those who are just coming out of college.” She says they are continually looking three to five years ahead to see what strengths will be needed so they can find and develop future leaders. “The summer internship is a way to expose students to the company’s history and business and to focus on entertaining our pipeline of fresh out of college hires.”

Students who take part in the program are often studying engineering, structural engineering, mechanical engineering, and there are even some pursuing architecture degrees.

“We have a recruiting team who attends career fairs and we are increasing our presence in those universities to attract more students to our internship,” she says, adding they do have some preferred universities where they’ve had previous success.

During the program, which lasts about six weeks, Ontiveros says they identify subject matter experts who have interest in mentoring and then prepare in advance the activities in which the students will be involved.

“They really love visiting the sites, and they were impressed with the software we use to design the facades,” she says. “For example, AutoDesk Inventor, AutoCad and NavisWorks, they learn to use it in school, but here they are able to use that knowledge on a real project and then go to the building and see the glass being installed. It’s no longer theoretic.”

The internship program culminates with the students giving a presentation about their experiences.

“It’s so rewarding to see these young people and see them excited to be on some of these projects,” she says, adding that a program like this isn’t just beneficial to her company or the contract glazing industry, but the entire construction industry.

“Unemployment rates are low and it’s worse in the construction industry [than others]. It’s difficult to find talent so [internship programs can help] attract more people to the construction industry,” she says. “Our objective is to offer each one a job. For the seniors, if it was a good experience for both of us, they receive a job offer. This past summer we made job offers to seven of the 16 interns, and many were juniors, so they will come back again next year for the program.”

Raising the Bar: Contract Glazier Certification

Now, more than ever, there is much at stake in the contract glazing industry— not only are companies facing a labor shortage, there’s also uncertainty that the labor they do have is good enough.

Nearly three years ago Administrative Management Systems Inc. set out to address this concern with the development of a third-party personnel certification program for architectural glass and metal technicians (AGMT). The program achieved ANSI accreditation in April 2019 and as of July 2019 had certified 177 professional glaziers from all across North America.

“AGMT certification is a means for glaziers to show they’ve mastered the skills and knowledge to set them apart from others,” says Ben Beeler, program manager. “Training gets them on par and certification determines they’ve reached that level.”

Beeler says that while certification isn’t new — products have been certified for years – this program is unique because it is a third-party assessment of the individual glazier’s knowledge.

“Previously, there was no mechanism in the industry to assess a glazier’s true abilities that wasn’t, in some way, partial,” says Beeler. “Companies have had certification programs where they bring installers in and take them through their training course and then certify their ability to install that product, but there hasn’t been any type of third-party program—particularly one that’s ANSI accredited.”

The new AGMT certification program tests the glazier’s ability to follow construction documents, shop drawings, installation instructions and verbal instructions.

Both the AGMT as well as the North American Contractor Certification – which assesses and certifies the contract glazing company – fall under the Architectural Glass and Metal Certification Council. Beeler says there have been discussions about requiring a certain percentage of glaziers or supervisors within a company to be AGMT certified in order for the company to receive NACC certification.

“That may likely happen in the not too distant future,” he says, adding that eventually they would like to see the AGMT mandated by code or by spec writers.

Training Evolution: How Unions are Preparing their Workforce

Glass and glazing industry companies invest a lot of their resources into training. The same is true for union organizations. These groups agree that training is essential because it helps assure not only a successful project, but that workers are prepared to do the job.

“People spend millions on engineered systems and façade design …
the last thing you want to do is turn it over to an untrained or unqualified installer,” says Anton Ruesing, director of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Finishing Trades Institute. “It could cost you millions in damages. By using qualified and certified installers you protect that investment and you give the owner and end-user what they are paying for.”

Russ Gschwind, who works in the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) apprenticeship and training department, adds, “With better trained [installers] … the company will be more profitable installed without damage. It also makes the person feel better about themselves if they know they are doing a good job.”

The Digital Age

These organizations have also embraced the evolution in technology, such as virtual and augmented reality and are incorporating some of these developments into their training programs. This is also an advantage for the incoming, younger workers, who are visual learners.

As Ruesing explains, “Today’s learners consume training differently. They often want the training in which they have interest on-demand and in short lessons. They aren’t interested in sitting in a classroom for 40 hours at a time. We’re working to develop micro lessons that they can use as on-the-job aids and consume in short learning sessions.”

And virtual technologies tend to bode well, especially since it’s a lot like gaming, which many enjoy.

Speaking of virtual learning, the Iron-workers have also made this shift. As one example, they are now training with a virtual welder, which helps a new person understand how to use the tool.

“You basically put the goggles on and as you work your way through [the program] we can correct their angle, tell them if they need to speed up or slow down,” says Gschwind. “It helps them understand how they’re supposed to be moving, without any real welding happening.”

He adds, “I think we will see more like this in the future. Ten years ago it was new and expensive and now it’s becoming worthwhile in the classroom.”

While virtual and augmented reality can make for a fun learning experience, these tools don’t replace the importance of ongoing training, especially when it comes to safety—which remains the number-one priority.

“Safety training is a major part of the Ironworkers curriculum,” says Gschwind. “We can be efficient and safe with the right training.”

Ruesing says they put apprentices through extensive safety training from day one.

“Construction jobsites are a very dangerous place. We start training apprentices in a simulated jobsite environment to train them how to recognize hazards on the job before we ever put then in the field.

Ready to Learn

Many different companies and organizations offer a variety of training programs and resources for the architectural glass, glazing and fenestration industries. Below is a look at just some of the resources available*.

American Architectural Manufacturers Association
Fundamentals of Fenestration
AIA-Approved Continuing Education

Architectural Glass and Metal Certificaiton Council
Architectural Glass and Metal Technician Certification
North American Contractor Certification

Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance
IG Fabricators Workshop
Preventing IG Failures
IGMA Leadership Development Program

International Association of Bridge, Structural,
Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers
Apprentice Competition
Welding Certification
Annual Ironworker Instructor Training
Certified Local Union Apprenticeship Programs
Train the Trainer Courses
Rigging and Signalperson Certification
Training and testing through the Electrical Power Research Institute
in preparation for nuclear power plant work

International Union of Painters and Allied Trades
Health and Safety Courses
IUPAT/iFTI Glazier Apprenticeship Program
Virtual Reality Training
(welding, painting and coating, mobile elevated work platform)
Preventative Education: Substance Use Disotder, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Professional Development Courses (e.g. personal finance, computer applications)
STP – Supervisor Training Program

Key Media & Research
Architects’ Forum™ Continuing Education
Glass Expos USA Programs

National Glass Association
My Glass Class
AIA-Approved Continuing Education

*Training programs available through these organizations are not limited to only those listed.

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter

Drew Vass, editor of [DWM] magazine, contributed to this article.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.