A Special Series from North American Wholesale Lumber Association
One of the biggest challenges many business leaders are facing today involves recruiting and retaining new talent. Our industry is no different. Most of our current workforce is comprised of Baby Boomers who are approaching retirement within the next five to 10 years.
Because of this, succession planning has become a crucial priority for business owners and managers across the board. This aging workforce has extensive knowledge and experience, and we now have to capture and share the wisdom with our future generation of employees—a generation that can be somewhat difficult to access.
Challenges in Recruitment
There are many reasons why the challenge of new talent recruitment, particularly among the Millennial generation, exists in the lumber industry. Most of these revolve around perception.
Oftentimes, we apologize for our industry not being “sexy” or “cool,” but the fact is that this new generation of talent is not that different from any other. They want to work for a strong company with good benefits that provides a clear path for growth and opportunity. This industry is about people and relationships; it is our responsibility to sell this to any potential hire, not just the Millennials.
Younger candidates may believe that this is a “sunset” industry or one that isn’t technologically advanced, modern or environmentally friendly. And since some mills are based in small towns, it’s also difficult to find local talent. It’s essential that we work to dispel these myths with our prospective workforce by highlighting the state-of-the-art technology of your facilities, promoting the advantages of the town(s) your facilities are in, and talking about the environmental benefits of wood—it’s a renewable resource and can help tackle climate change.
Getting Their Foot in the Door Through Internships
One of the easiest ways to attract and retain new talent is through a company internship program. Through Capital Lumber’s internship program, we place multiple interns at each location. We have hired and retained several of those interns as full-fledged sales and product managers.
One of the biggest contributors to success in forming an internship program is getting buy-in from your current employees. Having someone market the program is key, but also having some of the more seasoned team members train and educate the interns is really where the knowledge flow happens. Mentorship is crucial. This also creates a “buddy system” for the intern, where they know they have someone available to ask questions and help them through daily activities and duties.
If you’re planning to start an internship program to recruit new talent, make sure it is aligned with the local universities with whom you work. For example, most business schools will give credit to their interns if they are assigned a project from the employer. Get to know your local university’s career services department and interview them to see what they are looking for with their interns.
The greatest success we’ve had with Capital Lumber is our relationship with our local universities. They know our company by name, and when a strong candidate comes up, they know to call us first to see if we are interested. These relationships may take some time to build, but are an important part of the process.
Additionally, with your program, there should be a formalized structure in place, which includes a 30- to 60-day onboarding and training schedule. Also, ensure the intern has plenty of work to do that will give him or her hands-on experience and build a knowledge base.
Our internships are project-based, so the interns can go back to their classes with a tangible experience. We all remember being interns at one point, and the most depressing thing was that you were responsible for making coffee and making copies—nobody likes that. It is important to us that our interns have something they can put on a resume and are able to present a solution to a problem we face every day.
Lastly, once you hire interns, treat them like new hires, not burdens. And always pay them.
Establish a Standard for Success
One of the biggest benefits of working in this industry is, by far, the relationships. With a company that fosters a culture of innovation and growth, a new professional can flourish and make a difference in a short amount of time. The industry has a lot of educational organizations that your younger workforce should get involved in, and NAWLA specifically has created a lot of “Next Gen” opportunities to network.
The more involved they are in the industry as a whole, the more likely they will want to stay with your organization. Encourage them to get involved in NAWLA 10 Groups, and send them to training sessions, such as Wood Basics where they not only learn the fundamentals of the lumber industry, but they make lifelong friends they can connect with in the future.
One of the most important aspects of all this is to make sure whoever leads your company’s recruiting effort believes in the process. You have to have a good cheerleader promoting your company and sharing why it’s the best place in the world to work.
– Bethany Doss is business manager for Capital Lumber, Healdsburg, Ca., and a member of the North American Wholesale Lumber Association’s board of directors.