Who’s the most knowledgeable person on your plant floor? Who’s the person you turn to when a problem arises? Is that person the same one it might have been two years ago?

The fenestration industry’s ongoing struggle with labor is well established. A lot of focus is commonly put on simply being short on manpower. But it’s just as likely that you’ve lost some of your most tenured professionals over the past couple of years. Data shows that the number of retirees among the U.S. population has risen dramatically over the course of the pandemic. And this is more than simple turnover—as these folks exit the workforce, they take with them a wealth of knowledge that isn’t easily replaced.

What to do when your most experienced technician decides it’s time for retirement? It’s a question without an easy answer, but it does bring us to today’s tip:

Sow the seeds of expertise today.

I’ve written several times on the value of training. Arming your teams with a greater depth of knowledge on proper manufacturing techniques for your window and door systems is important. Knowledge sharing in the manufacturing environment can help you deliver higher-quality products to your customers who expect them.

But there are other benefits that training programs can have in your facility. Making an investment in your teams not only can help ensure a quality product, but demonstrates to your employees that you’re also invested in their personal success on the shop floor. These kinds of initiatives can help improve talent engagement and retention at a moment when it’s needed. A new technician who feels appreciated and supported by the organization may think twice before he or she goes looking for new work.

It won’t happen overnight, but implementing training measures will ideally begin to foster your next generation of true plant experts. Consider this: If a tree falls in your yard, it’s impossible to replace it immediately with one of the same stature. But you can plant a sapling—and with care and attention, it will eventually flourish into something significant.

I hope you’ll excuse the metaphor, but I think it’s a useful way to think about how the fenestration industry can begin to replace institutional knowledge that we may have lost over these past few years. At a time when we seem to be dealing with a new challenge every day, long-term thinking tends to be put on the back burner. By making these kinds of decisions today, you’ll thank yourself tomorrow.

In the shorter term, leverage the relationships with your suppliers to fill in some of those knowledge gaps today. Work with vendors who can offer expert perspectives on how to best work with the products they’re selling you.

Like I said: knowledge sharing is important. It doesn’t need to be contained within just the walls of your own organization. Collaboration will continue to be critical as our industry collectively moves forward toward shared success.

John Ryba is Technical Services Manager for Quanex.

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