Cornwall Glass is closing the skills gap through a highly innovative training partnership with Exeter College.

The UK lies fourth from bottom in the EU’s table of participation in job-related adult learning. If our standing in EU league tables may not matter much after Brexit, it should nonetheless raise a red flag for manufacturing and construction industries and the deepening skills crisis that increasingly defines labour markets within them.                                                                                                  Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests around 10 per cent of the UK construction and manufacturing sectors’ workforces are foreign-born.

Although still an unknown quantity Brexit could be expected to lead to far stricter controls on the movement of labour into the UK and with it, the loss of a skilled, if a migrant workforce. The evidence is clear – a squeeze on the labour market risks turning a skills shortage into a crisis.

In shining a light on the UK’s skills deficit in construction and more widely, current pressures on skills and productivity, have also highlighted the importance of modern apprenticeships in delivering a solution.

Cornwall Glass gave new structure to its own apprenticeships programme with the launch of the Cornwall Glass Apprenticeships Journey, in September 2016.  “We’d started running our own apprenticeships programme five or six years ago, offering apprenticeships as glass operatives, glazing, finance, customer service and engineering, working with a number of external providers”, says Mark Knight, Human Resources Director, Cornwall Glass.

He continues: “That had been fine but we wanted to introduce slightly higher standards, particularly in core areas relating to glass processing, which were better aligned to the business.”

The ‘actual’ journey to its launch had begun some six-months earlier, Cornwall Glass working with Exeter College in training partnership, identifying and developing its own in-house assessors for glass operative and glazing qualifications.

Exeter College training partnership

Exeter College Apprenticeships

The ‘actual’ journey to its launch had begun some six-months earlier, Cornwall Glass working with Exeter College in training partnership, identifying and developing its own in-house assessors for glass operative and glazing qualifications.

It’s partnership with Exeter College has in effect, allowed Cornwall Glass to train its own ‘in-house trainers’, Exeter College developing their training promgrammes, appointing mentors and providing quality assurances.

“In a way, we’re outsourcing our skills to them within a structured framework and against rigorous quality standards and controls” Mike Blakeley, Director of Apprenticeships and Employer Engagement, Exeter College.

He continues: “As part of the approach they now also fit into our quality cycle so that you could say we have ‘adopted’ them into our organisation.  Their work is also fully assessed as new trainers and mentors to ensure that it remains up to our expected standards.”

He argues that this training model, delivered in-house and assessed for core competencies by its own assessors is highly effective, raising standards and accelerating learning.

“Occupational competency training and assessment delivers without a doubt the best results, because the person doing the assessment and training understands and has experience in those roles. That practical understanding of the requirement to do the job to a high standard, means learning is better and standards are significantly higher.”

A highly adapted model of learning

Mark Knight HR Director

As part of the training programme itself, apprentices are ‘buddied-up’ with colleagues who are already skilled and they learn about each unit against their qualification on the job. They are then assessed against course criteria to make sure that they’re hitting expected milestones and the competencies, or to identify if additional training or support is needed.

There are currently 18 apprentices, working through the Cornwall Glass Apprenticeships Journey, with seven colleagues having already completed training, achieving NVQ Level 2 as glass operatives or glaziers.

Apprentices also receive regular reviews, throughout their course. This includes regular salary reviews based on attainment.  Other incentives include driving lessons, if they haven’t already qualified and £100 of high street vouchers. Mark said: “We want to say thank you to people for their hard work for some people that’s about the pay reviews, others are motivated by being able to drop the apprentice title but we make sure that we reward everyone.

“It’s about skills and doing the job but also so much about culture. I worked in the public sector for 14-years and you’re very much a number. Here you’re an individual. Directors go into sites and know people by name, which is incredible given the number of colleagues that we have.”

With a combined turnover in excess of £15m, Cornwall Glass has seen sustained growth through a combined strategy of expansion and acquisition covering 13 locations throughout the South West. Recent acquisitions including Pilkington’s Bristol-based glass merchanting business which launched as Mackenzie Glass in December 2017.

It’s investment in people has been matched by that in its manufacturing facilities, with more than £5m invested going into its Plymouth purpose built IGU production and processing facility in 2016, its turnover growing from £1.5 to £4m since acquisition in 2009.

“We want our apprentices to take on those cultural values and delivering our apprenticeship programme is a great way of accelerating that as well as allowing us to deliver to higher standards and deliver better products and services to our customers.

“For them individually it’s great to see how their aspirations change and grow from perhaps doing well in their job today or tomorrow, to longer term ambitions within the business”, Mark concluded.

The Apprentice’s Story: Callum Murkin, Apprentice Glass Operative

Apprentice Journey 1

“I’d completed my ‘A’ Levels and things hadn’t really worked for me and I wasn’t sure quite which direction to take next. I didn’t know much about glass and glass processing, it’s not really something that was ever highlighted to me at school as a career but I’m now just three-months off completing my apprenticeship and it’s been great”, says Callum Murkin, Apprentice Glass Operative, Cornwall Glass.

As part of his own Apprentice Journey, Callum joined Cornwall Glass in September 2015, starting out in dispatch before progressing to manufacturing. “It’s all on the job training”, continues Callum. “Dispatch now sounds pretty straightforward but when you first come into it, you need to learn how to handle glass safely and to be confident around it.

“I then moved into production working on the lines. The learning process doing the job has worked really well for me. You’re buddied up and you watch someone with 20 years’ experience doing the job and you look at what they do, ask them why when you do it, it might not be as good the first time and you learn and find your own way of doing it.”

Now nearing the completion of his NVQ Level 3 in glass production, Callum has completed a wide range of modules, each carrying points towards his final qualification. This has included safe manual handling, laminate glass cutting, safe use and management of chemicals to quality management and problem solving in production.

“What it’s given me above everything else is confidence. I have developed a lot of new skills but that’s come with the confidence to take new things and new responsibilities on. I’m the site first aider, I now lock-up the shop floor at the end of the day”, says Callum.

“When I complete my qualification in a few weeks’ time, I’m thinking about doing a diploma in production management. It’s changed the way I’ve thought about my career, what options are available to me and what I can do.”

For more information on career opportunities at Cornwall Glass please contact