Constructive Conversations: ICBA’s Laura Stanton of AWG Northern Industries

To kick off both Season 2 of Merit Canada’s Constructive Conversations AND Women in Construction Week, host George Affleck chats with AWG Northern Industries president Laura Stanton. Laura is the third woman to chair the board of directors of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.

Laura Stanton knows glass. Laura is the President of AWG Northern Industries, a second-generation family-owned glass supplier, retailer, and manufacturer. While Laura has always worked on the periphery of the business, she came back to it in 1996 after her mother retired to run the financial side of the business and then officially took over in 2015 when her father retired. Today she is solely in charge of running a glass business that has almost evolved to be self-sustaining. Once a company that installed glass, today, the company manufactures and supplies its own glass, allowing it to stand independently.

While that should bode well for AWG, sourcing glass is no longer the most significant challenge. Laura explained that the company looked into becoming a glass supplier because it was simply too hard to get glass on-demand, so they created the only supply solution that couldn’t fail. However, while they now have excellent access to glass, and they supply to other companies, contractors, and small retail shops around the Smithers and Prince George region, their biggest problem is finding skilled labour.

AWG has the same challenges as the rest of the world with a global labour shortage, but now a shortage of skilled workers is proving even more difficult. Students are not entering the trades the way they used to, and the result is that almost all construction companies are competing against each other for a minimal pool of qualified candidates. Laura explained that finding potential talent is an uphill battle. If you find a worker with skill and the proper disposition, it takes almost two more years to train them, so it is very time-consuming to replace the older group of skilled workers that are slowly ageing out of the business and retiring.

Laura also remarked that at the end of the day, installing glass is an in-person physical job that cannot be automated. Unlike other tasks, glass needs to be delivered in one sheet and then physically moved and installed. This simple fact makes it hard to cut corners or find alternative solutions, but the company is working hard to evolve with the times and look at where growth is most attainable.

In her time as president, Laura credits herself for creating the company’s supply arm and spurring their retail growth. Today the company owns 19 retail locations across the Greater Prince George area, operates a sealed unit manufacturing facility, and has its own distribution network so they can act as its own retail supplier.

She credits her parents and former partner Doug Peers as her greatest mentors who taught her everything she knows about glass. One thing that keeps her inspired to keep fighting is her favourite project, which happens to be her old elementary school in Smithers. The school was remodelled and ended up being completely encased in glass provided by AWG. Driving past the school is always a treat for Laura, who still lives in Smithers and works hard to stay true to her roots.