Finding and keeping good employees requires thinking beyond traditional salaries and benefits.
There’s no denying that the rebounding housing market is great for business. But the market turnaround has reintroduced a familiar problem for both dealers and their customers: a labor crunch.
“Many factors are beyond our control, [such as an] aging work force retiring and taking a lot of knowledge with them, more competition for top talent, and hiring/ retention challenges,” says Tony Misura, President and Owner of Misura Group, an executive recruiting firm specializing in the LBM industry. “All of this is taking place while demand for LBM products and services is steadily rising.”
So what can be done about it? Part of the solution comes at the industry level, with an overall branding of LBM as a solid career choice. And part of it lies with each company and how they market to, recruit, and retain good workers.
Here Are 12 Areas to Consider for Hiring and Retention Success.
1. Boost the Industry
Simply put: Some people don’t find the lumber industry attractive as a career choice, particularly with the proliferation of flashy tech companies with foosball tables in their beer-stocked kitchens.
“As an industry we haven’t done a good enough job of marketing why you’d want to come in,” says Mark Barnard, President of LBM industry executive recruiters SnapDragon Associates. But there’s much to like, he says. For one thing, building material distribution is part of the three essentials of life—food, health, and shelter. While there are peaks and valleys, you don’t see the mass, permanent layoffs that some industries do.
Plus, it offers a great deal of upward mobility, he adds, where someone starting as a truck driver can someday be in the executive suite. “I think we have a good story to tell,” he notes, pointing to housing innovations such as smart homes, renewable energy, and manufacturing advances. “But I don’t think we do a good job selling our story.”
2. Boost Your Brand
The same goes for your company. Creating a cultural brand for your employees is just as vital as the one you communicate to potential customers. Show applicants, and remind existing workers, why your company is special and a smart career choice.
For example, Barnard points to National Lumber in Mansfield, Mass., which recently ran radio ads featuring and congratulating longtime employees. Harvey Building Products in Waltham, Mass. displays plaques for those with 10, 20, 30 years of service. “These things mean something to people,” Barnard says, adding that companies that do this effectively are not the ones from which his recruiting firm is receiving resumes.
National Lumber in Baltimore considered its branding with the redesign of its office space. “I think it’s very important when bringing someone new in, that they can get a vibe for the environment,” says Principal Neal Fruman, describing how the dealer remodeled its workspace to retain the company history but feel less dated. “It’s very important to create a professional work environment.”
3. Take Care of Your Workforce
The easiest way to have a solid team is to not have to hire much at all, and the elements described below are just as important for retention as they are for attracting new people.
“‘Retention, sales, and profits, and in that order, and nothing else matters,’” Misura recalls a CEO client saying once. “Focusing on retention and hiring will yield results.”
Ongoing communication is key and performance reviews should not just be about evaluating an employees’ work but determining their ideal future at the firm. What do they like/dislike about their job? What do they feel is missing? What path do they see for themselves at the company and how can training or other development programs help them achieve that?
Relationships with bosses often are another reason good workers leave. “If I was an owner, I would look at the three weakest leaders on my team, and either put them through training and development, hire them a professional coach, or terminate them; not recognizing the damage they can cause is foolish,” Misura says.
4. Stop Fearing Millennials
Yes, millennials may have different work styles and tastes. But so did every generation before them. Rather than shunning them or avoiding them, dealers should acknowledge those differences and make needed adjustments.
“Our biggest challenge is continuing to adapt to the new and different work and learning styles of younger workers,” says Tony Shepley, Owner and President of Hyannis, Mass.- based Shepley Wood Products. “With greater potential for turnover and shorter career duration than in generations past, we have to train better, faster, and more completely than ever before. Candidates want things better defined. All in all, it makes us have to perform better, which helps us be a better employer.
“We employ millennials and we appreciate them,” Shepley adds. “They are quicker and smarter than a lot of us likely were at that age. Their style is different, but our style was different than earlier generations, too.”
Fruman disagrees with the commonly held notion that millennials are entitled. “I haven’t seen the millennial issue. You can find a 55-year-old who has tons of energy or is lazy, too,” he notes.
5. Maintain Fair Compensation
While benefits and culture are important, none will make up for substandard pay. Harold Barnard, President and Founder of Evergreen Recruiters, which specializes in building materials and manufacturing, says many dealers haven’t brought salaries back up following the housing crash, and salespeople are doing more for less. This can make it hard to attract new workers and definitely makes it difficult to retain good employees.
Rikka Brandon, Chief Executive Recruiter for Building Gurus, an executive search firm in the building products industry, has noticed this as well, finding that some LBM dealers haven’t updated salary and commission plans for a couple of years—enough to make them behind.
Salaries vary drastically, of course, and it’s often difficult to track industry rates in small markets. Brandon recommends consulting with local human resources associations to track salary data. Also, request an applicant’s current compensation package; if they seem to be embellishing, ask for their W2. “That’s the best real-time data you have.”
“It’s imperative that today’s employers keep up with where industry compensation levels are,” agrees Mark Barnard. “Buying groups and [association] memberships can offer insights into salaries and what benefits are being added so we don’t lose them to other industries as well as within our own.”
6. Offer the Full Package
Benefits are just as key and require just as much focus. Like salaries, continually look at what others in the industry— and outside of it—are offering.
“Benefits are a big part of why people take jobs or don’t take jobs,” says Brandon. “There are a lot of people who can’t take a job if it doesn’t have benefits, particularly health insurance.”
Smaller yards should look to HBAs or dealer associations for group programs that allow buy-ins without as much burden. Rikka says 401(k) matching also is important to job seekers; companies without a program or without at least a minimal match may turn off applicants. For companies whose size makes benefits truly a challenge, consider lowcost perks that could entice employees, such as a flexible work schedule or a generous vacation plan.
Still, you have to look at the whole picture, Misura notes. A compelling offer is about more than salaries and benefits, especially since most companies offer at least base benefit packages. He points to options such as training and development as additional points of emphasis. “Organizations that are getting ahead on capturing talent are doing that,” he says. “You apply the dollars and you get a bigger return.”