Reflections – why the glass industry needs a new approach to training and skills

The Glass Academy is a training and skills development initiative set up by British Glass. Chris Sorsby, Education Lead at The Glass Academy, explains the concept behind it and the achievements of the project to date.

 Chris Sorsby, Education Lead at The Glass Academy, explains the concept behind it and the achievements of the project to dateIn his first Glass International column back in November 2012, Dave Dalton, CEO of British Glass, discussed the establishment of The Glass Academy. This is an industry-led initiative aimed at reinvigorating the UK glass manufacturing sector to ensure the industry’s existing and future workforce has the skills required to compete in manufacturing markets on a global scale.

Co-funded by the UK Government’s ‘Employers Ownership of Skills’ programme and the glass industry, The Glass Academy aims to provide the highest quality training and skills development across the industry, working closely with employers, schools, colleges and training partners. The key objectives are to boost apprenticeships and up-skill the current workforce to achieve true global competitiveness, securing the future of and expanding an industry currently worth an estimated £2.5billion in the UK annually.

A key place to start was in identifying the skills gap issue and the challenge of an ageing workforce in an industry that is not attracting enough young people into the sector.

Mind the Gap

A recent political Skills Taskforce report¹ surmised that the most successful economies of the 21st Century will be those ‘which can ensure that their young people maximise their potential, develop high levels of skill and knowledge and contribute to building successful companies.’

Given the widespread industry concern over a skills gap which could hamper the UK’s competitive capabilities, we believe that it is critically important that employers continue to develop the skills of the existing workforce and facilitate knowledge transfer when younger employees join their organisations.

The glass industry needs a workforce that is properly trained and highly skilled in all aspects of manufacture, not just with the appropriate technical skills, but also with specialist commercial, management and leadership skills. We also need to broaden the skills and advance the professional development of existing employees and trainers to drive industry growth, competitive advantage and employment opportunities.

For this reason, we welcome the plans announced by the UK Government to give vocational technical courses the same status as A-Levels. This aligns with the work we are already undertaking at The Glass Academy, demonstrating to students, parents and teachers that non-academic routes offer an equally attractive career path, full of opportunity.

We are working with Government and in partnership with employers in our industry to drive this initiative and ensure we attract and retain the most talented young people with the right practical skills to become the future leaders of the glass industry. It’s so important to have the right skill mix of academic, research, practical and technical skills and it’s vital that occupational courses are recognised as being just important as academic qualifications.

Back to School

Our work with schools and other learning establishments across the UK will help to ensure that the glass industry has a steady supply of young people with the skills and behaviours it needs and which will give individuals the best chance of building a long-term and fulfilling career.

The Glass Academy works with a range of educational partners to provide key information and resources for students, teachers and parents, including curriculum linked resources, careers advice for all age groups, projects including the Glass Academy Ambassadors and bespoke programmes to meet students’ needs.

We also recognise the need to develop the personal qualities and attributes of students within both curricular and non-curricular activities to foster successful life skills. In addition to educational development, The Glass Academy programmes work on employability skills with students. This includes encouraging them to actively participate, learning how to work independently as well as part of a team, showing enthusiasm and creativity in projects, being respectful to adults and peers and developing their confidence through presentation skills.

As an example, The Glass Academy team spent a day at a local school in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, recently, teaching classes on research and presentation skills, asking the year 10 students (14 and 15 year olds) to create and deliver their own presentation at the end of the day. This was conducted in partnership with one of our glass manufacturing company members and the whole day revolved around the glass industry as well as how the skills they learned can be applied across many different careers.

Working together with employers, educational institutions and professional bodies in the glass industry, we have identified young people’s lack of awareness of the sector and the careers it has to offer. By taking an innovative programme to young people at an age where they are starting to think about their future, we are providing high quality guidance to help them make the right decisions.

First Step on the Career Ladder

We face a challenge in persuading school leavers (16-18 year old) that the UK glass industry is a truly viable career choice.  Until we started to address this, there was no mechanism for the industry to easily promote itself to those making decisions about their academic future.

The Glass Academy is coordinating Apprenticeships across the industry and its associated supply chain, whilst developing a range of more innovative and learner-led programmes to significantly improve upon the current provision. Our Apprentice of the Year 2012, Daniel Ullah, who works for O-I in Harlow, is a fantastic example of how an apprenticeship can work so successfully in practice. After starting aged 16, Daniel will soon be timing out and starting full time work, having gained qualifications in NVQ Level 3 Engineering and NVQ Level 3 Electrical. He has a promising career ahead with an opportunity for further study to Degree level and the potential to work abroad.

In order to make the industry really attractive to students, The Glass Academy is providing career opportunities to school and college leavers that are attractive and tangible.

We are working with Siemens on an apprenticeship programme which starts this September and we have already put 65 employees currently in the industry through supporting programmes to enhance their skills. These vary from one or two day events, such as our IOSH courses, through to much more substantial interventions at levels up to and beyond a first degree.

Focus on the Future

Through working in partnership with Government, glass companies, the associated supply chain, partners, employees, teachers, lecturers, students and parents, we will ensure we succeed in our aims to provide the highest quality training and skills development for the next generation - those who will become the future leaders of the glass industry in the UK.

For further information please visit the Glass Academy website at

Reproduction of this published material is provided courtesy of Glass International -

Published in Glass International August 2013.


[¹] Labour’s Policy Review – Skills Taskforce Interim Report: Talent Matters


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