Making apprenticeships work
GGP Magazine talks to Cornwall Glass Manufacturing’s joint MD, Mark Knight, about
the shortage of skilled workers coming into the glass processing and IGU sector.
www.ggpmag.com March 2020
Industry bodies are campaigning
hard to boost recruitment of
apprentices into the glass and
window and door industries.
Although not without its successes,
in common with construction and
manufacturing sectors at large,
results have been mixed.
The latest Government figures
published in January this year show
that the problem is deep-rooted. The
Apprenticeships Levy continues to
be seen as a tax by business. This
means that overall apprenticeship
figures remain significantly down on
their pre-2017 figures.
In 2018/19, there were 742,400
people participating in an
apprenticeship in England, with
393,400 apprenticeship starts
and 185,100 apprenticeship
achievements. This, however,
represents a drop of 72,400 on
In the window and door and glass
industries, despite efforts to reach
out, manufacturers continue to
cite recruitment of skilled workers
as a major threat to their business.
This includes a failure to effectively
promote apprenticeships and the
industry to younger workers.
“In our experience, the glass
industry is pretty much invisible
to the majority of students we go
out and speak to, it’s simply not
something that they have ever
considered,” says Mark Knight,
joint managing director – and an
Apprenticeships Ambassador – at
Cornwall Glass Manufacturing.
“There isn’t a magic solution that’s
going to turn that around. It’s about
working at it, engaging with schools,
attending job fairs, showing school
leavers and students what a career in
glass can offer them. It takes work
This is, however, something that
Cornwall Glass Manufacturing has
been highly effective at doing. It’s
parent-group, the Cornwall Group,
has made a commitment to hit a
target among its workforce of 20%
current or former apprentices.
Sharing this target, Cornwall
Glass Manufacturing, which is
jointly headed by Knight, alongside
Mark Norcliffe, and which operates
across three manufacturing sites
in St Austell, Highbridge, and
Plymouth, has said it will recruit a
further six apprentices this year.
This is in addition to the five
current apprentices it employs in
Plymouth, four in St Austell and
three apprentices in Highbridge, that
it currently employs.
“We offer a number of different
apprenticeships as a glass operative
and in business administration, to
compliance,” explains the former
Cornwall Glass director of HR. “We
want to make a positive contribution
to the communities in which we
work but it also makes business
sense to do so.
“We want to be able to shape
the colleagues who join us so that
they’re not only technically highly
competent but so that they share our
culture, values and commitment to
quality and customer service.”
Cornwall Glass launched its
‘Apprenticeships Journey’, in
September 2016 partnering with a
number of local training providers
to deliver a programme of on the job
and classroom-based training, plus
mentoring, dependent on the roles
apprentices are recruited for.
“The right training provider is
important and we have deliberately
mixed things up a little this year. For
example, this has included working
with GFTS,” continues Mark.
“The Government introduced
a new requirement for off the job
training about six months ago. We
didn’t want our glass operatives
sitting in a classroom, but we were
able to work with GFTS to get them
out with our delivery teams.
“This delivered a number of
benefits. They saw another part of
the business but also a customer
facing one, helping them to make
that connection between what they
do in the factory and how quality
and service is critically important to
With retention rates among its
apprentices of almost 100%, lower
turnover of employees is another
key benefit delivered through its
programme, something which Mark
agues, again translates into a better
service to its customers. So how do
you pick the right team?
“For a start I’d say it’s not about
academic ability,” says Mark.
“Attitude is far more important.
“So, we’ll walk them around the
factory before their interview to see
how engaged they are. We’ll ask
them a little bit about their history,
their family – ultimately, we’re a
family business and that culture is
“We also need them to be
prepared to step up from a school or
college environment where they’ve
been in from 9am to 3pm to a role
where they start at 7am and finish
The obvious point about all of
this is that it takes an investment
of time to deliver an apprenticeship
– and even more to do it well.
Mark, is however, convinced of
the value it adds to Cornwall Glass
Manufacturing and its customers.
“It comes back to the ability to
bring colleagues into our business
who share our values but also who
understand the product and the
importance of service,” he says.
“We need that pull-through. It
allows us to retain knowledge and
skills within our business which
would otherwise be lost and that
shared expertise translates into
better product quality and better
service to our customers.”