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Great outlook for building with glass


November 3, 2008
By Steve Hart

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November 3, 2008 – New Zealand – Changes to the way glass is used during the past 10 years have put pressure on firms involved in the industry.

Changes to the way glass is used during the past 10 years have put pressure on firms involved in the industry.

While
glaziers that can replace a broken window with a handful of putty are
still relatively easy to find, those that can specify and supply glass
as a building product, to fabricate walls, floors and staircases, are
thin on the ground.

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Debbie Paul, chief executive of the Joiner
Industry Training Association, which administers glazing
apprenticeships, says in the 1990s apprenticeships were not really
promoted and that during that time architecture changed to include
glass in all aspects of building construction – all of a sudden it was
not something you just looked through.

And she says the reason
youngsters aren't taking up training options is because the industry
has a low profile among school leavers.

"They don't know about
it," she says. "People think the industry is just a glazier up a ladder
replacing a sheet of glass with some putty. But our glaziers never
touch putty. Today, glass is such a versatile product because it is not
heavy on maintenance. It can now be used in places that ten years or so
ago were unthinkable."

Paul
says the government's introduction of double glazing alone has led to
new machines being imported to fabricate window units – but finding
people to operate them has been difficult. With the glass industry
developing here, firms are unable to simply lure people from
competitors – the people just don't exist.

"There is a lot of
pressure on the glass industry at the moment and it is a well-paid
industry," she says. "People can choose to work inside fabricating or
outside as glaziers."

Stewart Knowles, CEO of the Glass
Association of New Zealand, says with the tailing off of construction
projects due to the downturn in the economy, demand for skilled labour
in the glazing industry has subsided, but that pressures still exist in
some parts of the industry.

"It has certainly been a very
difficult situation for a long time to find skilled people to do work.
Certainly some firms using new machinery will be in the thick of it –
they will really be struggling as they need decent staff that can run
processing machinery.

"There are various levels that you can work
at in the industry. There's your glaziers replacing a window that a
ball went through, and then there are your more specialized people
doing construction with offices and high-rise buildings – and this is
where the shortages are."

Marijke van Nooijen is general manager
at Glass Relate and says finding staff with the ability to accurately
measure glass to the exact millimeter required is harder than people
think.

"No longer can a short piece of glass be hidden under putty. With
frame-less installations, glass has to be cut exactly right. If it is
one or two millimeters out you've got a complaint because it needs to
line up perfectly."

Van Nooijen says the company works closely with architects specifying which glass can be used where.

There
are many rules covering schools, homes, business premises and public
places. The high level of expertise that is now required is not
something the average old-school glazier has, she says.

"And this
is another point of difference to what the industry used to do. We even
have toughening furnaces where we process imported glass."

Van
Nooijen says the glass trade is still changing and people working in
the industry need far more skills and education than they used to. But
her firm is playing a part in developing the people the industry needs.
At any one time, she employs three apprentices.

"It is up to glass companies to take on people and train them – most young people are keen to be trained."

"When I started I
thought the job would just involve putting glass in a wooden frame.
Today you can make a building made entirely from glass – including its
roof. I have been involved in installing glass bridges, a glass
staircase, pool fences – people are using glass for everything now."

One
of Ball's recent projects was erecting a glass wall outside a client's
home to block the wind from whistling around the property.

"Once
the glass was in place we had a sandblaster come and create wonderful
designs and pictures of knights on horses in the glass – it looks
great," he says. "I love what I do."


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