Glassmakers create different types of glass and form them into a huge range of products, from jars, drinking glasses and windows to the optical fibres that support broadband connections.
Glass is a combination of sand, soda ash and lime. Glassmakers melt these together in a furnace at very high temperatures. By adding other raw materials and chemicals, and varying the rate at which it is allowed to cool, they can manipulate the glass to achieve different properties.
The UK glass industry produces around 3.7 million tonnes of glass per year.
Glassmakers work in one of several main production areas:
Container Glass, mainly bottles and jars, which accounts for around 60 per cent of UK production.
Flat Glass used for windows in buildings and vehicles.
Fibreglass used in thousands of different ways, including reinforcement of plastics, rubber, electronics and wall coverings.
Domestic Glass and Decorative Objects, such as drinking glasses, decanters and vases.
Special Glass, which includes items such as television tubes, microscopes and spectacles.
Glassmakers' activities depend on the sector they work in. They may:
Most of the work involves automated plant and equipment. Some specialised glassblowing is still carried out by hand, such as the creation of decorative glass items and some specialist and scientific products. Glassmakers may also be involved in decorating glass by engraving, using one of various methods to remove part of the surface.
Glassmakers often work shifts. Some plant is designed to operate continuously for years without a break in production, so shift work needs to cover 24 hours.
The work is based in factories, studios or workshops. As the furnaces work at temperatures of 1,700 degrees Celsius, the factory environment can naturally be very hot. The processes can also be noisy.
Glassmakers often spend long periods standing and working heavy equipment. There may be some work in confined spaces. They need to wear protective clothing and goggles.
Salaries start from around £12,000 a year. With more experience, earnings can reach £18,000 a year. Specialist glassmakers can earn up to £35,000 a year.
The UK glass industry is dominated by six glass container manufacturing companies, and three flat and three fibreglass manufacturers. The largest sector is container glass. There are numerous smaller glass companies, mostly producing craft and specialist products.
There is a concentration of jobs in Yorkshire, the West Midlands and London.
The UK industry has declined in recent years as some companies have moved their operations abroad. Increased automation has also led to fewer jobs for glassmakers. However, there is still a shortage of skilled staff.
Some craft glassmakers are self-employed.
Vacancies may be listed in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres. They are also found on the websites of the larger employers and on specialist recruitment sites such as www.glassjobs-online.com and www.glassglobal.com
For some roles, no specific entry qualifications are required. However, GCSE's (A*-C) in English, maths, IT, art, science and design and technology may all be useful.
The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may also be useful for this field. It explores production systems and processes as well as the business side of manufacturing.
Apprenticeships in glass industry operations are available.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Many providers offer courses in craft glassmaking. These range from beginner-level courses to HND's in 3D design (glass). For an HND, colleges usually expect to see a portfolio of art work, as well as one or two A levels or equivalent qualifications.
New entrants learn on the job, under the supervision of experienced colleagues.
It is possible to study for NVQ's at Levels 2 and 3 in glass manufacturing and glass processing.
Foundation degrees in management and glass technology are offered by Wakefield College. The course is aimed at those in, or seeking to progress to, supervisory roles in the glass manufacturing industry.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A glassmaker must be:
After training and experience, glassmakers may be able to advance into production management and then operations management. The glass industry is a global one and there may be opportunities to work abroad.
It may also be possible to move into other parts of the industry, such as engineering, glazing or fabrication.
Craft glassmakers may set up their own studios or workshops. With relevant qualifications, they could move into teaching.
British Glass, 9 Churchill Way,
Chapeltown, Sheffield S35 2PY
Tel: 0114 290 1850
British Society of Scientific Glassblowers (BSSG)
Society of Glass Technology,
Unit 9, Twelve O'Clock Court,
21 Attercliffe Road,
Sheffield S4 7WW
Tel: 0114 263 4455
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.