Labor of love

From the December issues of BPD and Merchant Magazines.

NAWLA’s year-long series on the labor market provides insights, actions

Perhaps without realizing it, you’ve been part of an experiment with us over the past year. For 2018, the North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA), for the first time, used its real estate in this publication to address what we know to be among the biggest challenges you face: hiring and keeping people on your payroll. While we didn’t solve any problems overnight or even over the course of the year, we did gather perspectives from all over the industry.

As the year draws to a close, we’d like to resurface the thought-leadership shared in these features – and invite you to re-read these pieces in past print issues or online.

In January, we teed-up the series with Patrick Adams’ piece, “The good times are here again – Although big challenges remain.” As the idea for this labor series came together, one thing was clear – the forest products and construction industries are booming – but a staggering number of positions were unfilled across all levels of work. The perfect storm of retiring Baby Boomers and other industries attracting the younger labor force had caused a squeeze like never before.

In February, we started sinking our teeth into ways in which those vacancies could be filled. “Labor shortage? Take a dip in the pool of cooperative education” was a primer on the differences between co-ops, internships, and practicums, and how each could apply to various sectors of the industry. These means of engaging forestry, environmental science, social sustainability, engineering and business majors are mutually beneficial to both companies and students – and slowly but surely, are helping to grow our available pool of up-and-coming professionals.

March brought a scientific-based approach to recruitment and hiring with Anthony Muck’s piece, “A fresh approach to hiring.” In it, Muck described the personality test that each candidate at DMSi must take in order to gauge assertiveness, expressiveness, patience, pace, detail-orientation, emotional control and creativity. While their strategy of hiring people based on their innate qualities and not necessarily on their hard industry skills, Muck discussed the importance of crafting a screening strategy to fit your company and the roles you need to fill.

The April feature was one of our most popular in the series: “Start ‘em young: How Oregon State University is engaging youth in forest products education.” In it, Chris Knowles and Michelle Maller told the story of on-campus efforts to recruit undergraduates to forestry, and introduced us to Mika Donahue, a rising star with the RLD Company. Knowles and Maller even shared details on their “Wood Magic” program in which third and fourth grade students are introduced to the industry with age-appropriate activities and field trips.

As the series continues, we learned that transportation was among the biggest pain points with the hiring squeeze. So in May, we sat down with Andrew Owens of A&M Transport and Rick Benton of Center-Line Group. “Delivery debacle: Perspective from the trucking side” shared the root causes of the crunch: the stigma around trucking as a profession, the demographics from which drivers typically come, and the federal mandates (including ELDs) that limit drivers.

In June, we took a closer look at the “green” side of things, as SPI and Robbins shared business decisions they make with positive environmental impacts – which tend to speak to younger people deciding where to build their careers. “Different means to positive ends” covered cogen, reforestation, biomass fuel, and other responsible decisions that make our industry more sustainable – and more attractive to workers.

By July, we knew the trucking crunch was a topic that deserved more attention, so Andrew Owens of A&M Transport came back for the piece, “Follow these rules of the road to become a shipper/customer of "choice." Owens provided several surefire ways to get to the front of the line, and a few quick ways to find yourself and your needs at the bottom of the heap, too. Check this one out for tips on rate schedules, fuel surcharges, accessorial charges, and more.

In August, NAWLA “special guest star” Claudia St. John stepped in to provide a bit of content from the HR side. “How to engage your employees” covered 12 workplace elements identified by Gallup, which are critical to motivation and happiness.

September’s issue allowed us to introduce you to Bhupinder Jhajj, a trader at Canadian Wood Products. His piece, “An unlikely path to the industry” showcased how one young man found his way to the world of lumber, and inspired us all to think outside the box a bit when it comes to whom we interview, and ultimately, hire.

Our Traders Market preview issue in October was the perfect time to talk about how tradeshow and conference attendance can make all the difference with retaining employees. “Newbies get their feet wet at Traders Market” made the case for sending new hires to events, and how the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Last month, NAWLA’s 2018 chairman, Nick Fitzgerald, shared his own experience in entering the industry and becoming leader of our organization with, “This business is personal.” Fitzgerald hits the nail on the head: The relationships one maintains are what drive success here.

And so here we are, a year later and hopefully a bit wiser having learned from these diverse voices from throughout our industry.

So, in 2019, NAWLA will continue sharing those voices with our next theme, “How did I get here?” We’ll share a dozen perspectives of how your colleagues landed in this industry, and what keeps them here. We’ll cover unique training programs, the biggest surprises upon entering the field, the preconceived notions we all encounter when we talk about what we do, and more. We’ve got an incredible line-up of authors, but we welcome your perspectives too. If you’d like to contribute to our “How did I get here?” series, shoot a note to nlewis@nawla.org.

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