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Tough Call: Training not included

Though the LBM industry is hungry for young talent, a company’s lack of formal training and a “sink or swim” attitude has a new employee questioning his decision to work for the local lumberyard.

As a recent college grad with a four-year degree in business, you set your sights on going to work in an industry with actual growth potential, one that will be around for the long haul, and one that offers a genuine opportunity to earn a healthy income, and possibly even own your own company. You did your due diligence—attending job fairs, studying the industry trends, talking with guidance counselors and successful family friends.

The industries that look the most exciting, especially technology, are very sexy on the surface, but technology moves so quickly, you’re unsure how to find a company that has staying power. A friend’s older brother took a job at a company that does website security for some of the country’s biggest retailers. When you visited him at his office, you were amazed to see foosball tables, pinball machines, a fully stocked kitchen, and even two kegs of beer on tap! A year later, after the company went through a massive round of layoffs, you learned from your buddy’s brother that, while it looked uber cool, it was an awful place to work.

A family friend is a homebuilder, and he recommended you consider working at a lumberyard. “As long as people need to build new homes or repair their existing ones, there will be a need for lumberyards,” he explained. “Plus, since lumberyards aren’t great at attracting young people, there’s a real opportunity for you to learn the business, build a solid career, and possibly earn some serious money.”

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You liked what you heard, so you followed up with a lumberyard that was at one of your school’s job fairs. “We are definitely looking for sharp young pros to join our team,” the owner gushed, “and you will be the one and only person on track to join our management team!”

The pay was fair and the benefits were solid, so you hitched your wagon and your hopes for a bright future. After tours of the yard, introductions to the heads of the different areas, you were given a desk and a title, Management Trainee, and told to learn the business from your new colleagues. Looking back, that’s where it went wildly off-track.

Since the company didn’t do a lot of hiring, they had no formal training in place. It’s true that many of your co-workers had been there for decades…but getting them to share their decades of experience was next to impossible. You get the feeling that they gained their “tribal knowledge” the hard way, and they weren’t going to do you any favors.

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Nearing the end of your sixth month of full-time employ- ment, and you still feel that you’re flying blind. You did well in school, worked your way through both high school and college, but this experience is making you question your abilities, and decision to join the lumber industry.

You desperately need training, but the owners have made clear that you’re smart enough to find your way, and if you’re not, the LBM business isn’t for you. What would you do?

–   WALK. There are LBM companies that are a good place to learn and build a career, but this isn’t one of them. When you put in your notice, wish the owners the best of luck. They’ll need it.

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–   SPEAK UP! Tell the owners that you understand business, and truly want to learn the LBM business, but your co-workers aren’t helping. Unless they provide some training, they’re wasting their money and your time.

–   PATIENCE. Accept that LBM businesses don’t always operate like the companies you studied in school. Earn the trust of your coworkers, and eventually they’ll share their secrets.

–   ENGAGE WITH BUILDERS. Since your coworkers won’t help, get permission to spend time with builder customers. Learn their pain points and what they want from your company, and your training is underway.

What would you do?

If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.


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