By Clark Spitzer—COO/Snavely Forest Products; Chairman, Traders Market Committee
We’ve been talking this year about the different, sometimes convoluted, routes that bring people into the world of wholesale lumber. A consistent theme is emerging, which suggests that once you do find your way in, there’s no looking back. Or, as the saying goes: once the sawdust gets in your veins, you’re here forever. I find that to be a true statement, and it has everything to do with the culture of this industry.
One of the greatest assets is the people, a realization that dawned on me right away when I joined Pittsburgh-based Snavely Forest Products roughly 25 years ago. I was fortunate to find in Steve Snavely and his family the support I needed to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow. While Steve is special to me and my journey, this industry of full of people just like him: honest, hard workers who believe in doing the right thing and taking care of one another. It’s all about figuring out where you belong, company-wise and career-wise. And that’s the other best thing: there is a huge spectrum of options for both.
Something for Everyone
I realized at an early age that the construction scene was for me. I worked in many facets of the industry, from residential framing and HVAC installation and repair to management of a truss plant and sales work at a major manufacturer. I was about 35 years old when I started my career in distribution, with no family connection to the industry and no college degree. The beauty of it was that, in this business, the “Welcome” mat is out and the doors are wide open for folks from all different walks of life. You can cross the threshold regardless of whether you have some education or multiple degrees, whether you have a background in wood or not, and whether you are a newcomer to the workforce or someone with years of experience elsewhere.
Of course, when you talk about building materials, wood is what naturally comes to mind. But it encompasses so much more than that. If you look at building materials from cradle to grave, from the time the tree is planted to the time that the builder sells a house, it’s all right here. If it happens that you do want to work in the woods and plant trees, you can do that. If you’d rather make a living in IT, you can do that here as well. There’s something for you if you’re interested in HR, if you’re an accounting whiz, or if logistics is your thing. If you want to work in a Fortune 100 publicly held company, we have those; but if a small mom-and-pop business is more your speed, we have plenty of those, too.
Pass It On
The point I’m trying to make is that the lumber industry is a “destination” career, and this is a concept that we need to start promoting more—to the younger generations, in particular. For too long, we’ve been tolerating the notion that this sector is not a sexy or glitzy powerhouse like Google or Microsoft. But at the end of the day, it has plenty going for it, including staying power. We’ll never stop building houses, and we have to have a supply chain. Most importantly, you don’t have to fit a certain mold to belong. There is an inclusionary culture where anyone can come in, choose a career track, and take it where they want. It’s important to get this message out—especially in the trades and junior colleges, where there may be some lack of awareness about the wide range of possibilities under the building materials umbrella. What education you don’t already have, for example, you can acquire once you’re here. It’s more about having a desire to succeed, a willingness to work hard, an understanding of how to treat people, and knowing how to have fun while you’re doing it. Young people need to know that.
Traders Market, presented by the North American Wholesale Lumber Association each fall, hopes to spread the word to some special guests at the 2019 show in San Antonio, Texas. The event provides a golden opportunity for insiders to learn the ropes, connect with peers, and build their networks. It’s also a perfect way to introduce outsiders to the industry. For the first time, Friday-only show passes will be offered to local college students. This pilot program will give them a close-up look into what the industry is all about, how the people interact, and the qualities that define the culture. What they’re sure to see is folks of all stripes, firms of all sizes, and jobs that run the gamut. And what they’re certain to find, should they tread on the Welcome mat and walk through the door, are people—like the Steve Snavelys of the world—and organizations—like NAWLA—that will help them carve out their own space in this industry and make it their own.