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Glass Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Glass Industry, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Industry, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Glass is used in many ways and forms. It is used in making eyeglasses, tableware, lightbulbs, windows, television tubes, and cookware. Glass tubes are used in the fabrication of laser light conductors. In the form of tiny fibers, glass is used for insulators, capacitors, and other electronic components. Ultrapure glass fiber is used to make fiber-optic cable for telecommunications companies and the military. Glass in the form of fiberglass is used to make draperies, boat hulls, and insulation materials.

The United States is a leading glass producer. Although some glass is still made by hand, the majority is now made by machines, and most workers in the industry are machine operators. Glass industries are usually found around large cities near sources of raw materials.

Most glassmaking begins by combining silica (a substance found in sand) with other materials such as soda and lime. Other special chemicals are often added to this mixture to make different kinds of glass. Large amounts of cullet are also added. Cullet is waste or broken glass of the same kind as that being made. The use of this material is expected to increase as more and more glass is recycled. The use of cullet speeds up the melting process. Conveyor belts carry the ingredients from storage bins, or silos, into a huge melting tank that can hold more than 1,000 tons of materials. The tank can be 30 feet wide and 150 feet long. As the materials move through the tank, they are heated to temperatures of nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, glass becomes a waterlike liquid, and impurities and bubbles rise to the surface. As the melted glass reaches the end of the tank, the temperature falls somewhat and the glass becomes a thicker liquid. It is kept in this state until it is ready to be processed by hand or machine.

Most glass products are formed by modern, complex machines. The machines are tended by grinders, forming machine operators, and pressers. Machine operators produce all kinds of glass products including sheet glass, ornaments, tubes and filaments, jars and bottles, and baking dishes. Some machines can turn out thirty-three glass lightbulb cases every second. Other machines with twin grinders can produce 400 square yards of polished plate glass every hour.

The United States is the leading glass producer. Although some glass is still made by hand, the majority is now made by machines. (© Walter Hodges/Corbis.)

Special glass products of fine quality are still made by hand. For these products, gatherers scoop up gobs of melted glass on the end of iron blowpipes. They give the pipes to glassblowers, skilled workers who form or blow the glass into shape. Glassblowers often use molds to help form the glass as they are blowing it. Some solid glass products are also made by hand. Workers use a mold and a plunger to press the glass into shape. Making glassware by hand requires much skill. Head glassblowers, known as gaffers, supervise hand operations.

Once the glass products have been formed, whether by hand or by machine, they are carried by conveyors to annealing ovens, or lehrs. There, the products are reheated to the temperatures at which they were formed and then cooled slowly to room temperature. The annealing process, which is controlled by lehr tenders, strengthens the glass.

Many glass products then go through one or more finishing operations. For example, layers of glass are sometimes sealed with a sheet of plastic laminated between them. This laminated, or safety, glass is used for automobile windshields. Fine glass tableware may be engraved or etched with a design or monogram. Glass products may also need to be trimmed, sealed, frosted, or stained, depending on their intended use. Trained workers are responsible for each of these processes.

Other workers in glass production plants include laborers, maintenance workers, inspectors, and supervisors. In addition, the glass industry employs ceramic engineers, technicians, managers, and executives.

Education and Training Requirements

Workers who make glass products have traditionally learned their trade through apprenticeship programs. Employers and unions often cooperate in offering this kind of training to employees. In an apprenticeship program, on-the-job training is usually combined with formal classroom instruction. It normally takes about three years to complete an apprenticeship program. Most apprentices have finished high school. Courses in machine shop, mathematics, chemistry, and perhaps designing are valuable. Many other workers learn their jobs through several years of informal training in the plant.

Engineers, administrators, and managers generally need a college degree. A background in ceramic engineering is the usual preparation for a career as an engineer in the glass industry.

Getting the Job

The best way to get a production job is to apply directly to glass factories. Sometimes openings are listed in newspaper want ads or on a sign outside the factory. Local union offices and state and private employment agencies often know of openings. Your school placement office may also be able to give you information about getting a job.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

A production worker in the glass industry can advance to a more skilled job or to a position as a supervisor. Engineers are often able to advance to management positions.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, manufacturers of glass and glass products employed 128,565 people in 2002. The outlook for jobs in the industry is poor through 2014. In recent years, there has been a steady trend toward packaging items such as soft drinks in plastic and aluminum rather than glass containers. However, because many authorities are running out of landfill sites for solid wastes, state and local governments may promote the use of glass, which can easily be recycled. Also, new ways of using glass are constantly being developed, along with new forms of glass that are strong, lightweight, or able to resist high temperatures. Still, in the glassmaking industry, employment is expected to decrease in every major production occupation.

Working Conditions

Glass is made at high temperatures and with heavy machinery that is often noisy. There is some danger of getting cuts or burns. Many chemicals are used, some of which produce dust or fumes. Modern glass factories try to minimize these conditions. Safety equipment and precautions, exhaust systems, and modern machinery help to cut down on dangerous and unpleasant conditions.

Glassmaking plants must stay open around the clock, every day of the year, because glass furnaces need to be held at a constant high heat. Therefore, shift work is necessary and plants must be staffed on weekends and holidays. In some plants, shifts rotate so that all workers do some night work. The usual workweek is forty hours long, although some overtime may be required. Many workers in the glass industry belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics, and Allied Workers International Union
608 E. Baltimore Pike
Media, PA 19063-0607
(610) 565-5051

Glass Packaging Institute
515 King St., Ste. 420
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 684-6359

United Steelworkers of America
Five Gateway Center
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 562-2400

Earnings and Benefits

Glass workers as a group have pay scales that are somewhat higher than those of other manufacturing industries. Wages vary depending on the type of job, the worker's experience, and the location of the plant. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production