New Education Option Emerges for LBM Industry

Oklahoma Lumbermen’s Association partners with Oklahoma State University for building materials-specific course of study.

Brian Wilson, a recipient of the Oklahoma Lumbermen’s Association Scholarship and student in OSU-OKC’s Building Materials Merchandising Program.

It’s no secret that lumberyard managers around the U.S. are finding themselves with Help Wanted signs hanging in the front windows of their stores much longer than they’d like. From yard workers to sales managers, the LBM industry has been struggling recently to fill positions with qualified workers who want to get into the lumber and building materials business.

Conversations in small-town lumberyard offices and in regional and national industry organizations have centered around the future of the workforce for the past few years. That was indeed the case at a December 2013 meeting of the Oklahoma Lumbermen’s Association (OLA) Board of Directors when Rich Bass, then the group’s treasurer, introduced the idea of partnering with a technical school to help train the next generation of employees.

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Bass was working as a manager in the Do it Best organization and had been hearing from a number of his member dealers who were struggling with business expansion because they couldn’t find the right people to work.

“I started noticing a theme,” said Bass, whose job at the time kept him in close contact with lumberyards throughout Oklahoma. As a member of the OLA Board of Directors, Bass was about to move into the organization’s vice president role and he wanted to have an impact.

“A guy I respect greatly, Randy Smith, said that I had three years to get something done. He said I was a doer and I needed to pick something to do and do it.”

As a younger man, Bass was encouraged by his lumberman father to attend school for a two-year lumber and building materials program. In 1976, those programs existed. Bass enrolled and later moved on to get a four-year degree. Thinking back to his time in the trade program, Bass knew that part of solving the industry’s workforce issue was to get connected with a vocational college.

“We thought it would take two years to get to the point where we’d get a conversation going with a college. What was amazing is that by September 2014 we had a program started and had three kids already registered,” Bass said.

To help get the program off the ground and to get students interested, the OLA engineered a scholarship program that early on generated $15,000 for the first students’ expenses.

The program is led by Terry Clinefelter, the school’s head of the Department of Construction Technologies. Clinefelter remembers when OLA members approached him with a problem. They had members who were not finding individuals who were educated or trained to be able to fit seamlessly into their business model. There were plenty of workers available at the time, just not many with construction or materials backgrounds.

“We’re tasked with serving the industry,” Clinefelter said. “Part of our duty as a school is serving Oklahoma businesses. We provide education to the public that puts people straight to work.”

Clinefelter worked with OLA’s needs and developed an Associates of Applied Science degree to serve building materials merchandisers. With a combination of coursework in construction, business and general education, the program strives to ensure that recipients of the degree are qualified to work in the industry.

“We tailored it so that students receive an applied technology AAS with a focus on construction and materials,” Clinefelter said.