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Labor & the Workforce
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Workforce recruitment and retention is critical to the success of any business. The November-December 2017 edition of PalletCentral provided insights from our industry thought leaders on the topic.


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Top tags: labor  automation  workforce  immigration  training  retention  compensation  labor pool  millennials  personnel  recruitment  Canada  competition  competitive benefits  culture  demographics  employee  europe  machinery  market  robotics  shortages  skilled labor  trade schools 

Labor Challenges (Iowa)

Posted By Chuck Burke, Monday, March 19, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

With the baby boomer generation now starting to retire, I do not foresee the labor issues getting better any time soon. Improvements will need to come from automation. There is a lack of work ethics from the 19 – 20 year olds entering the workforce. Most don’t want to work more than 20 or 30 hours per week.

There aren’t enough employees to go around! In our area, the unemployment rate is 2.4%, which anytime this drops below 3%, the few applications we do receive are mostly unemployable. Our area also completes with agriculture (farming) plus other manufacturing facilities looking for labor. In the next 5-10 years, we’ll have to turn to legal migrant workers with the support of additional automation. 

Tags:  immigration  labor  workforce 

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Labor Pools, It's All Demographics

Posted By Chris Lasseter, Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

It’s all demographics right now. There are more workers than ever, but there aren’t as many of “those jobs” as there are people wanting them. So we have a perfect storm of plenty of labor with few of the jobs that people think they deserve. We don’t have a job problem in America, we have a work problem. The choices we must make are simple; you lower your standard for a job and you lower your standard of living accordingly until you can take the next step. Looking 5 to 10 years down the road gets interesting. However, as an eternal optimist and believer in the American people, we’ll figure it out. Hunger is always a great motivator.

Training is vital, and we must do a better job of helping people succeed. My wife taught for 20 years and I remember her saying that if a kid leaves us and can’t read, then we failed him. For years, our industry has just thrown people at jobs and expected them to figure it out or we’ll get another employee. Well, the next one won’t figure it out either, so why not spend more resources and set this one employee up for success.

In our area (South Eastern, Alabama), the food industry is our biggest competition. The area is heavy in poultry and peanuts, and all the big national brands have processing facilities within driving distance, so our middle management, and even the best of the forklift and maintenance, work there because they offer better wages. There is no magic answer and each region is different. In talking with people across the nation who are having success in finding workers, one solution is locating laborers who themselves are bouncing back in life. But to do that successfully, you can’t treat people as numbers, they are people who will need a little extra assistance. They will show up, sometimes because they don’t have a choice, but most often because it is their only choice. 

Tags:  demographics  labor  training 

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Warehousing is Growing, Labor Shortages

Posted By Maria Lehman, Monday, March 5, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Warehousing is growing in our area, and I foresee that the labor supply will steadily get lower every year. We will need to stay competitive on the market. Working conditions, opportunities of advancement, location, public transportation availability, benefits, pay, employee recognition and engagement, company reputation, work ethics, management are all contributing factors.

Our main challenge is attracting candidates who have good work ethics. The work is highly physical, and in all weather conditions. For example, a good forklift driver could easily find work in a warehouse for the same pay and in a better environment. New and established warehouses, as well as manufacturers in Lehigh Valley, compete with us for labor, be it entry level or mid-management.

Consider solutions to strengthen and promote a culture of engagement, safety and accountability, all which can contribute to attracting, and retaining, qualified and loyal employees. Some ways to achieve said goals are:

-       Empowering our managers to seek and offer solutions from within; accountability for themselves and for their teams.

-       Having structured processes and training for employees, managers, supervisors and team leads.

-       Continually check the pulse of the workforce from job posting to hire, through orientation, training and starting their job, providing them feedback through regular performance reviews, and showing them a career path if that interests them.

Tags:  competitive benefits  culture  labor  labor pool  shortages 

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Lack of Skilled Labor, Shortages

Posted By Doug Hoyle, Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

In my extensive travels, upwards of 700 customer locations in the last 2 years, the same concern surfaces in every demographic and geographic area of the country: labor shortages. Many of our customers are expressing significant concerns about the lack of skilled and unskilled labor. The lumber industry has an aging workforce, and replenishing the rapidly retiring workforce has proven to be difficult. As the economy has steadily increased over the last few years, so has the growth of the housing industry. This has led to an increase in demand for lumber, building materials and related household goods. Many customers have had to decline jobs due to the supply and demand imbalance.

 Increased economy, increased discretional spending, immigration and undocumented worker controls, increased pay and benefit offerings from retail and restaurant employers are all contributing factors to labor. There is competition in the general labor force with competitive wages, but there’s not enough publicity about the opportunities in the lumber-related industry.

 Recruitment and publicity will help at the elementary, high school and technical school level; college recruitment for management and sales positions. Employers should consider increased wages and benefits to compete with businesses and industry in the surrounding area, and upgrade technology of the machinery and equipment as to provide for a more skilled and higher paid workforce.

Tags:  immigration  labor  recruitment  retention  skilled labor 

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Labor Challenges in Europe

Posted By Marc Perez, Thursday, February 22, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

As machinery suppliers, we face the same challenges as any other company regarding labor. It is always hard to find qualified labor, but it helps to have a core of motivated people and always try to make them feel part of our success or defeats. Anything that helps to improve their/our work will be good for the business in the end. Our overall age level is low (around 35 years of age), so while most of our staff have joined us after finishing their studies or degrees, we still provide them with a full apprenticeship or training from the start.

The next generation comes with more “digital” skills than “hard work” values. We need to prepare for these new workers. For example, if a teenager today can use a computer better than anyone from the 70’s, why couldn’t they program a collaborative Robot to load boards into a nailer in a few years’ time? Schools in many parts of the worlds are already teaching robotics, programming, coding and mechatronics. In a few years’ time, we'll perceive the hand-nailing or hand-feeding as we perceive the (fax) facsimile… (and faster than we think).

Automation in the European pallet industry has grown rapidly over the past 10 years, and possibly for different reasons: a higher quality product from newer and more advanced sawmills (automation processes), higher wages on labor (social care and taxes), higher and unpredictable costs and availability of the raw material, heavier and tougher restrictions on health and safety regulations. The need to reduce costs forced companies to look at other areas instead of just finding cheaper labor.

The U.S. market may not be that far away from Europe in the diagnosis but it may be in the pain. The lack of consistency in labor will provoke an inconsistency in daily volumes, and force companies to look elsewhere. Automation may be a solution but it will require some time to accommodate the mentality and the reality of the pallet-lumber business in the United States. Although the pallet lumber quality has not gone as far as it did in Europe (yet), the current technologies that allow lumber to be graded while going through the manufacturing lines comes at a cost. The cost for scanning technology is still too high for many small-medium size volume companies.

Tags:  automation  europe  labor  machinery 

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Define Your Company Culture

Posted By James Ruder, Thursday, February 15, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Without question, the first response from people when asked about their company’s workforce is usually negative. Regardless if asked today, or 5-10 years ago, employers find themselves always complaining about labor. I’m guilty too, but not anymore. I found it to be wasted energy and draining to say the least.

Things began to change when I started to recognize the value of the human capital surrounding me and realized that filling jobs wasn’t all about me needing workers to produce “my” widget. I recognized the opportunity to positively influence people that needed help in their lives. It is easy to think that entry level workers are the most challenging, but the fact is that every human being that walks through my front door has a ton of baggage, and junk in the trunk. If I expect them to deal with their problems outside of work, and yet show up with a smile on their face every day, then I am the fool.

The fact is that turnover is our enemy, not the available workforce alone. Pallet company business owners have gotten used to needing hundreds of applicants yearly when they only have a handful of jobs to fill. My plant manager Jay Doyle reminded me not worry about having a long line at the door. He encouraged me and said, “We just need 10 people today boss, not 100, if we can keep them from leaving.”

The magnitude of that statement is huge because it creates freedom from worrying about what is happening in the job market with so many other opportunities. It challenges us to be smart in a different way. Looking at what I’m doing internally to keep employees is a far better use of my time than trying to figure out where to advertise jobs to reach more people. 

It’s foolish to keep doing what I did 20 years ago and expect it to work. Demographics have changed for sure. But I don’t control those things, I only control how I respond to change. Expecting it to be enough to just give an employee a fair market wage, an average benefit package, and a dirty hard job, is foolish. We need to ask ourselves how to become the destination for people looking for work, and it’s going to look different for each of us based on our surroundings. 

Millennials are causal. In other words, missional. They want their life to count. They join in worthy causes. They don’t give to church, but they will contribute to a friend in need or a GoFundMe cause. We can work with that at L&R Pallet because we have started to hire people based upon being a cultural fit first, skills/ability second.

It has been my experience that all people need purpose. Applicants don’t come to us with a burning passion to make pallets, but they do come with a longing to be a part of something greater. So “what” do I do to staff my workforce? My job (my mission) is to lead and take care of the people standing in front of me. Their job (their mission) is their work station. Our job is building, serving and impacting everyone and everything through what we do. The vessel just happens to be a pallet, but it is not “why” we get up every day. I get up to make a difference to a captive audience that reports to work for 40 hours each week. It’s an opportunity and a responsibility. By doing that, serving the customer has become easy. 

The answer is actually simple; start loving people. I guarantee it’s the secret sauce in defining your company culture and figuring out where you will be in 5 to 10 years.

Tags:  immigration  labor  millennials  personnel  workforce 

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Aging Workforce? Skilled Laborers Needed

Posted By Katie Sutter, Thursday, February 15, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

In my business, we see an aging workforce. This will cause a need for skilled labor in the next 5-10 years, mainly for programmers, machinists and general laborers. It’s going to be even more competitive as more “Baby Boomers” retire.

Finding the right person takes time. In our area, we have a good public job agency, and the state of Ohio also offers training reimbursement. Entry-level is the toughest. We can’t “afford” or need college graduates for all job openings. At the same time, we need experience.

Our community recognizes the upcoming labor problem and has begun to address it with various solutions. One solution is to engage educators and employers in the conversation. Our public school system is creating Career Academies where grade schools and high schools introduce students to career paths. Some involve advanced education, some do not. This is in its early stages, but it’s a start!

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Tight Labor Market in Midwest

Posted By Brett Cole, Tuesday, February 6, 2018

2018 will continue to be a tight labor market in the Midwest. We have fewer people who actually want to do physical labor. Cole Pallet Services will continue to automate and hire higher level employees to offset the labor shortages. We’ve also increased our starting wage and use temp services to do our initial hiring. This puts some of the burden of drug screening, background checks, and e-verification on the staffing agency.

In the next 5-10 years we expect our industry to consolidate and to open room for growth by hiring people with experience in our industry. We also expect automation to continue causing the need for physical labor to decrease. Overall, physical labor will continue to be hard to find and skilled labor for automation will be required.

Regarding pay and benefits, we’re working on increasing wages and offering more benefits to employees. As we grow, we want our employees to grow with us.

In our small town, we have several big businesses, Nestle, Target, 3M (5+ plants), etc, therefore we compete against some top tier employers for our labor. Right now, the biggest competition is for labor.

We’ll continue to automate and train our key employees to use the new equipment. This will allow us to keep our most valuable staff while producing more pallets and cut-stock on a daily basis.

Tags:  automation  labor  market  personnel 

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