by Debra Levy
Ann Landers is a hero of mine, ever since I started reading her at age five as she "laid down the law" on the comics page between Brenda Starr and Peanuts. Ann is the mother of all answer ladies: a very tough, together woman who is always right. A precursor to the Dr. Lauras of today, Ann constantly tells the "smart cookies" who write to her to ask themselves, "Are you better off with him or without out him?" And when that fails and they stay anyway, she admonishes them to "wake up and smell the coffee"whatever that means. And if only we could truly atone for our mistakes by taking "40 lashes with a wet noodle."
But there is one Ann-ism that I truly believe: "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." This column, and the program it introduces, are about being part of the solution.
We all know that the lack of qualified labor and installers is the single most serious problem that we as an industry face. The lack of qualified employees has crippled the growth opportunities of some companies; the work of poorly-trained employees has destroyed others; and the out-and-out theft of employees among shops in different parts of the country has led to lack of solidarity among shops in those regions and the inability to focus on common goals.
Rather than waste your time and this paper re-hashing the causes of such lack of supply, we decided to do something about it, and in conjunction with the Virginia Glass Association (VGA), are working to improve and increase the qualified labor pool of auto and flat glass installers.
Under the leadership of Fred Shumaker of Goochland Glass in Goochland, VA, and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the VGA has spent eight years developing a college certified program to train installers in both areas. In addition to making sure that candidates can pass basic math and English courses, the programs uses a combination of classroom and practical classes to train students. "Its been extremely successful here in Virginia because we train for life," says VGA board member John Martin of Sommer & Maca. "We train the way we all want our own employees trained." Shumaker concurs. "You can even send a student back to us if he is lacking in an area and we will work with him until he gets it right," he says, "plus he has got a college certificate as his own."
The good members of the VGA have quietly and tenaciously moved glass installation from a job to a career, increased their labor pool, and moved from bidding wars for installers to common goals and problems.
The association and the college have a solution that can easily be replicated elsewhere. And since we want to be part of the industrys solutions and not its problems, USGlass is doing the following to help:
Underwriting the cost of a program called "How to Get and Keep Qualified Installers" at regional expos around the country. The VGA will explain how the program can be replicated and help set up programs around the country. The first such session is set for Saturday October 3 at Glass Expo Midwest 98 in Grand Rapids, MI. The next will be held at Glass Forum 99 in Manchester, NH, and Glass Expo Hawaii 99 in Oahu, HI.
Donating advertising space to help get the program off the ground. Info about the program appears on page 28.
Publicizing the program and the efforts of groups around the country.
I hope you choose to be part of the solution too and join the effort for the common good. I hope Ann would be pleased. -Deb
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