Staffing our companies with quality people has become one of the most serious challenges facing many LBM dealers. Whether that’s due to the mass exodus of pros from our industry that followed the Great Recession, or the fact that many of us can’t figure out how to connect with millennials, the problem remains. The question is what to do about it. Unemployment is low, the housing market is in solid growth mode, and LBM dealers need good people if they’re to deliver what builders and homeowners demand.
This months question is one that comes up again and again…and it doesn’t seem to be going away. The last time we addressed this in a Real Issues survey was in 2015. When a dealer from Oklahoma recently described his biggest business challenge as “Hiring, training and retaining high quality employees,” we decided that it’s time to revisit this issue.
As we do each month, we sent a brief survey to subscribers who have opted in to receive our email communications. A big thank you to the 150+ readers who took time to weigh in on this topic. If you’d like to get future surveys, please drop me a note at Rick@LBMJournal.com, and I’ll make sure we get you added to the list.
How difficult is it for your company to fill the following positions?
First, we wanted to get a better understanding of which positions readers are having the hardest time filling, so we asked, “On a scale of 1 to 3, how difficult is it for your company to fill the following positions?” As the chart shows, the vast majority of positions listed were ranked as either “Somewhat difficult” shown in yellow, or “Extremely difficult,” shown in red.
The toughest-to-fill positions were drivers (48.7%), outside sales (48.6%) and estimators (47.7%). The other “Extremely difficult” to fill positions were executive/leadership (43.8%), inside sales (40.8%), general manager (38.0%) and operations manager (36.6%).
The severity of the problem in filling certain positions becomes even more clear focusing on the blue bars in the chart. For example, when only 5.7% of respondents report that it’s “Not difficult at all” to fill outside sales positions, that means that it is moderately to extremely difficult for the remaining 94.3% of respondents. While that is the most extreme example, the situation is almost as tough when the “Not difficult at all” numbers for drivers and inside sales comes in at 10.5%, and estimators next at 10.8%. Clearly, all of the talk about dealers having a hard time finding good people is more than just talk.
LBM dealers across the U.S. are reporting a shortage of qualified candidates for open positions. In your view, what is the secret to attracting good people to join (and stay with) your company?
“We’ve raised the starting wage for our CDL truck drivers and also increased the wages of our current CDL drivers trying to keep more of them. For our other positions, we have hired people with no experience at all and trained them to do the job required. We have had some success doing this and also some failures.”
“I just don’t know. In our market, we have limited candidates to choose from. Most do not seem to care.”
“I think the secret is demonstrating an environment where they can maximize their potential and providing a development plan that will help them achieve their career goals within the organization. There has to be constant communication between the company and our team members so they always know where they stand and targeted areas to focus on that will help them develop their craft.”
“Our industry is hard work. A lot of young people have no interest in getting their hands dirty.”
“Attracting is difficult. We use many different channels to reach prospective employees: ads, pay finders fees to existing employees, our bi-weekly print and online publication has a green sheet of job openings (currently 42 openings), word of mouth and various job boards. Keeping people is our strength. We use our ESOP that also pays annual dividends to these owners, annual profit-based bonuses to all employees and, most importantly, we treat them with respect.”
“Competitive to superior compensation and benefits. Engaged and supportive leadership. Challenge and reward. Friendly, often fun, environment. Attention to personal situations and individual needs.”
“We tend to identify future employees before we need to hire them. We are constantly evaluating workers at other businesses, so when we have an opening we have some potential candidates to fill our position.”
“Pay top wages.”
“Beyond the obvious pay / benefits package that all employees are looking for, we find it critical to keep the employees at all levels engaged about their career path. We take time to work with so that we both understand what the path looks like, and how they are going to get there.”
“A complete benefit package. Flexible schedules. Training. Incentive bonuses.”
“Pay enough money, have plenty of benefits, and allow time off when needed.”
“Talk about the work environment within our company, the fact that we are 100% Employee Owned, so in a short period of time, they will start to earn stock in the company. Also, the fact that we try to promote from within, so they can advance as they learn more about our business and the industry.”
“I heard two dealers talk about what they did to make their companies a ‘Best Place to Work’ at the LBM Strategies Conference, and we’re working to put some of their ideas to work at our yard. It’s clear that we need to be the kind of company where people really want to work if we’re to attract the right people. That includes good pay and benefits—but those are only the beginning.”
“To attract good people: Having a good reputation within our area. To keep good people: Being clear about expectations, and providing the tools to do the job.”
“Getting quality people requires quality pay. The way the lumber business is dog-eat-dog, price shopping. It is difficult to pay top dollar for people, but we have no choice. Pay up!”
“An enjoyable work environment with competitive salary as well as insurance benefits. Proper training of management personnel. If those in management positions are able to keep their department employees happy and appreciated, it in turn gives them incentive to work harder and better. If present employees are giving negative feedback to potential applicants, it certainly will not encourage them to follow through with the application process.”