By Kimberley Clough, Manager, Recruitment (North America), Interfor
If you look across the industry, there is a whole group of folks with 30-plus years of experience behind them. This group has important institutional and technical knowledge, but it’s in danger of being lost. Because of the cyclical nature of our business, we haven’t emphasized the development of succession candidates to eventually fill those jobs. Once this group retires in large numbers, the industry could be in a difficult situation, where it starts battling over the talent that remains. The cost of that talent goes up if we haven't collectively come together to develop a pipeline of up-and-coming individuals in our organizations. Let’s not find ourselves in a situation where there’s one person qualified for every two jobs in the industry. Let’s start recruiting and developing the next generation of employees to the lumber industry in a strategic way.
The Message to Millennials
I subscribe to the notion that, regardless of generation, there are certain people in life who like seeing that results to the work they do every day. There are millennials who are fascinated by big machines and how they work. It matters to them that the products we create are things you can see and touch. And so I think the reason why millennials would get into the lumber business is if they enjoy being part of an industry that produces a tangible output that feeds into other industries. The message to those millennials is that the lumber industry is part of a larger, stable economic platform. Although it has its cycles, it's an industry that's here to stay.
Reaching Out to Future Graduates
At Interfor, we do a lot of different things to attract and retain millennial employees. We understand that our long-term success will be driven by our ability to retain talent at the supervisory and operational levels. Bringing in millennials is one path to ensuring that success.
To find millennials, you have to engage with universities. We do that by attending job fairs and conducting information session. We don’t target schools arbitrarily, however. We find schools that graduate the type of individuals who are attracted to the lifestyle associated with our industry.
In other words, if we’re recruiting for engineering positions in Georgia, we don’t actively recruit at the larger technical institutions, like Georgia Tech. Those students generally don’t want to live in small towns and work in our industry. They picture themselves working in aerospace or just about any other industry before ours.
We target smaller schools instead, ones with good programs that teach students to think like engineers — to be analytical and process-oriented — but who want to live in a town with 500 people because they enjoy fishing and hunting, or whatever it is that draws them to small-town living. The type of institution you focus on does matter.
How you engage with an institution depends on the quality of its career center. We have an excellent relationship with the University of British Columbia, for example, mostly because they have a good career program in place. The career advisors know who we are and what we offer as an employer. Many of their graduates have come to work with us, either in forestry or the manufacturing side, so the student body knows who we are. They know every year we're going to hire a certain number of co-ops, and they can provide information on what it's like to work at Interfor. In this scenario, your employees are the best at selling your company to future graduates.
We’ve also engaged with students by making presentations in classes and by offering ourselves as the topic of classroom projects. If they do express interest or eventually become a co-op participant, we make sure to connecting with them on LinkedIn and keep in touch.
Make Mutually Beneficial Relationships
When we bring interns or new graduates into the business, they're not left to fend for themselves. During the recruiting stage, that's what new graduates or millennials often want to hear. The idea is that they're meant to keep developing and learning and that there's a plan for their development. We really focus on the fact that we have a plan. If the employee has an engineering degree, we really understand what that person has to learn about our industry in order to really add value.
Millennials in particular need to hear that they won’t just be handed off to a manager and hope that they learn something in the process. Millennials don’t have a track record of staying with companies long after they graduate, but I find the biggest motivator is an acknowledged plan to continue developing employees. They're more likely to stay because they see the opportunity to progress their career in meaningful ways.
Start Building a Pipeline
There is no ‘build it and they will come’ when it comes to hiring millennials. Companies that want the best employees have to go find them. Here’s a quick guide to building a pipeline.
Dedicate someone in your organization: For some companies, recruitment is a priority. For others, an afterthought. The difference is often whether an employee is dedicated to it or not.
Engage with universities: Find universities with programs that relate to your needs, whether it’s engineering, accounting and so on. Then call or email the career Services staff at those programs and set up a meeting. (Their information is usually listed on the school’s website.) The more they know about you, the more they can sell your company to the best students.
Connect on LinkedIn: Build your network with those career services staff, interns, former employees and anyone else who could lead you to your next hire. Keep in touch with the occasional message, but don’t inundate them.
Get Employees Involved: Your employees should be your best promoter. Ask for help connecting with the next generation, by contacting their alma maters on your behalf, speaking with potential recruits or even a formal referral program.