LBM industry tackles recruitment and retention

A shrinking workforce continues to raise concern for pro dealers.

BY Andy Carlo

CHICAGO – In an industry that is facing a labor shortage along with a shrinking workforce, recruitment and retention was one of the big topics discussed at the 2018 Pro Dealer Industry Summit.

A panel of executives from Alexander Lumber, BMC Stock Holdings, and Curtis Lumber discussed some of the strategies they have employed during a discussion moderated by Tony Misura, founder and president of Misura Group, which provides recruiting services to the lumber, millwork, and truss industry.

Part of the problem is the image the industry projects, according to Sandy Zelka, CFO of Curtis Lumber based in Ballston Spa, N.Y.

“It’s an industry that doesn’t seem very glamourous. And recent graduates don’t think of it as a place where they can use their accounting degree. But they can, and we want you,” Zelka said.

Curtis Lumber recently hosted nearly 3,000 seventh, eighth, and ninth graders to a career open house to promote jobs at the dealer and the industry, according to Zelka. The company’s first annual “Career Jam” is in partnership with area builders and contractors while giving students an opportunity to learn about careers in the lumber industry.

“Everyone wants their kid to go to college, but skilled labor can make as much [money], if not more, without the college loans,” Zelka noted.

Mike McGaugh, executive VP and chief operating officer of BMC, cited a recent study from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies that indicates the LBM and construction industries are losing five employees for every employee that joins.

“We’ve got a lot more to be proud of for our industry, and we need to band together to promote it at the junior high and high school level,” McGaugh said.

A veteran of Dow Chemical prior to joining BMC, McGaugh pointed to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiative, which partnered with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. The program was founded by a number of petroleum and chemical companies, including Exxon and Dow, to bring career possibilities to students who might have considered a career in the industries.

“The chemical industry faced headwinds and solved the problem by investing in programs like STEM. We need to figure out the same exact type of program for the construction industry,” McGaugh said.

BMC already focuses some of this recruiting efforts at local tech schools and regional colleges.

At Illinois-based pro dealer Alexander Lumber, part of the process for retaining employees has been to empower them. The company recently asked its drivers how their jobs could be improved based on a “Own the Last Mile” strategy: the driver is the final step in process of selling and delivering materials to contractors.

Alexander drivers take pride in their clean trucks, “nice” polo shirts, and the ability to pass out their own business cards, according to Russ Katherine, president and CEO of Alexander Lumber. “We thought the process would be met with resistance, but the drivers came up with the rules and procedures,” Katherine noted.

Focusing on why an employee might depart a company for other pastures, Jordan Lierz joined the discussion. The daughter of Franklin Building Supply President and CEO Rick Lierz, she discussed how she left a career at mega accounting firm Ernst and Young and moved back to Boise, Idaho to consider  career options. “I left the ‘big four’ accounting world in search of something a bit smaller and something a bit personal,” Lierz said. “For me, one option is the lumber industry; it runs in the family.”

Zelka notes that Curtis Lumber employees are instructed to keep their eyes open for people they meet in the community who might provide exceptional service, whether it’s a coffee shop, convenience store, or clothing store employee.

“If talent walks in the door, grab it, find a place for it,” Zelka said “Right now, in this industry, the big and the great are retiring. We are going to lose 30% of our workforce because of retirement. This is a hot topic for all of us.”


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L.Stoner says:
Nov-08-2018 08:46 am

Kids getting out of college these day feel entitled to jobs that pay $65K>Do these companies pay that? Probably not. Office managers with degrees make<$20KlessFair? to get and keep good drivers/employees in general you need to pay more. Nice collared shirts? No our drivers do not have that. No business cards. We have a young driver and he takes no pride in his truck. If you really want to keep good employees PAY them then they will be loyal to the company. Give them sick days too! Do not take away vacation. This is happening across the board. Vacation is precious to us. I do not want to get sick from another sick employee. I have come to work with 103 degree temp and diagnosed with pneumonia. I do not want my vacation taken. 2-3 sick days would not hurt any company especially billion dollar companies. It is truly a sore point for employees.



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