Blue collar blues

Shane Soule

Our greatest collective industry challenge is expanding. It’s not sourcing materials. It’s not inflation. It’s the lack of people who want to get their hands dirty and turn our materials into final products.

Blue-collar employees are now as important as white-collar staff, if not more important. I don’t know about you, but we can obtain 50 applications for an office manager and only one for a forklift operator. The fact is that this issue presents a mounting threat to our whole society, and yet there’s an absence of strong solutions or strategies to improve it.

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The labor problem is not the same across the board. It’s worse for positions that require extensive skillsets, including those that are hard to teach or hard to learn. While these kinds of employees are difficult to source, they’re even more difficult to replace. Yet many companies in our industry still neglect this issue by skimping on training and ignoring the competitive advantages of a strong focus on culture.

A strong culture is a dynamic target, and employees are inspired by different priorities than they were in the recent past. Yes, pay and benefits are still important, but they aren’t what will keep your team devoted and motivated. Today’s team members want to feel that their efforts are valuable, and they prefer to receive continuous feedback on them. They also want to believe that they have a promising future at their company as well as a clear route for professional advancement.

Instead of singing the blues, consider these strategies to swap scarcity thinking for an abundance mindset.

Career path mapping

Your ability to map out a career for your team members is one of the most important talent acquisition tools you have. It shows employees that you are invested in their future and want to help them grow. Instead of focusing solely on short term rewards or bonus structures and assuming you know what your team members want, get to know them. Engage your team members to find out what their goals and dreams are. With this kind of valuable information, you can work together to formulate a growth plan for each individual and communicate with them regularly about it. The goal is for each member to develop personally and be promoted to the extent of his or her capacity.

Either you encourage healthy development from within, or remain compelled to hire expensive talent from the outside.

Publish and share career path opportunities by position. Some of the best sales reps and product managers come from the yard. Noteworthy as well is the fact that drivers are now some of the highest paid team members in our companies.

Recruit like a college coach

One area of heavy focus should be high schools and trade schools. Your future talent is there, and the difference between you and your competition is your ability to recruit them and help them become actively engaged in your culture. Think about the many opportunities you are competing against—from pursuing college degrees to exploring other talent-starved industries. Get aggressive this year and create a proactive recruiting plan with your local high schools. Many companies are now starting operational employees as high as $18-$20/hour. That’s almost $50k per year (averaging 45 hours per week). Show these recruits why your company is not only a good job, but a great career. Show the career paths you’ve created alongside the salaries and benefits they can expect to see. If done well, you’ll be in the enviable position of choosing from among the best up-and-coming talents.

What are your key areas of focus for the new year? If talent acquisition is not at the top of the list, I urge you to reconsider. You can have the best facilities and the strongest sales team around, but if you don’t have a great operational staff, it’s a moot point. We’re currently wasting time and money in our hiring processes because we continue to try to put a square peg in a round hole. Things have changed. We can do better, and as an industry, if we do better first, our companies and our employees will benefit for years to come.


Shane Soule consults with LBM and component companies to increase productivity and profits, and improve the experience for both customers and team members. Reach Shane at

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