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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, More Automation

Posted By Debra Berry, Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Finding and keeping good employees is a challenge in any field, but finding new employees that can work well with a team is even harder. A good resource is always your current employees. They know other people and would most likely only recommend someone that would be a good fit. A retention bonus offered to current employees who bring in others who stay for a period of time could help with recruitment. Additional sources to tap are community groups, community colleges, high school vocational programs (work/study), religious affiliations and immigrant centers.

Fair compensation is another issue. We tend to look only at volatile wood pallet prices as a factor of estimating and not at the cost of employees themselves. As an industry, we should widen our scope to look at employee compensation and adjust accordingly so it can be a true living wage. However, money is not the only contributing factor when considering job satisfaction. Health care benefits rank at the top of the list; something that is becoming increasingly difficult to provide. Creating a community in the workplace where employees feel valued and integral to the business’s success strengthens the foundation of any business.

I believe that 5 or 10 years down the road, as the pallet making process becomes more automated, the job will become less laborious, less taxing and therefore more desirable, making it easier to recruit new employees. 

Tags:  automation  compensation  labor  workforce 

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Labor Trending Downward

Posted By Keith LaCanne, Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The available workforce in our industry will trend downward as wage pressures continue to increase in our area for less labor-intensive production roles. We’re already challenged to fill open positions and anticipate 2018 presenting similar hurdles. Projecting five to ten year scenarios will depend on strategic decisions. The best option for J&B Pallet is to examine all automation alternatives and focus on developing a more nimble, highly skilled employee work force.

Primarily, a combination of wage rates and location, as our locale is at nearly full employment, with a broad base of opportunities in production, agriculture and service industry positions, are all factors. This generates upward pressure on starting wage rates, and makes retention of trained employees challenging as well.

Wages and the physical demands for many production roles make it challenging to recruit. There is competitive pressure for all roles, mainly from traditional manufacturing facilities, warehousing/logistics opportunities, and agricultural positions.

Automation, mechanical solutions, and process modifications to mitigate the physical demands will help. Implementing automation solutions for the future will also drive skill development and opportunity for advancement, resulting in a higher functioning work force in the next 5 to 10 years.

Tags:  automation  labor  workforce 

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Manual Labor, Lack of Interest?

Posted By John Swenby, Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

There is a definite lack of interest in manual labor or minimum wage jobs. And the tough part is that those same workers do not have enough interest in gaining skills to take them farther as they age. Government “entitlements” are a huge issue/factor in the labor equation for some employee categories. We have used Temp agencies, work release programs, and job fairs as ways to bring individuals into the operation, with limited success. In conversation with customers, vendors and other business owners in the area, the labor issue is common across the board. Our health insurance provider has similar issues with office staff as we are having with production laborers.


Our organization will actively be moving toward a European style repair system with robots and additional labor eliminating processes. Custom size pallets may be increasing difficult to provide to customers.

Tags:  automation  labor  robotics  training 

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Automation, Immigration

Posted By Howe Wallace, Thursday, April 12, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The labor market will be more challenging in the immediate future. We don’t think the 10 year time frame is a relevant planning horizon. Automation will get cheaper and more broadly implemented in that time frame. We try to remain competitive on pay and benefits. 

There is a growing trend of young candidates being inexperienced with physical labor and having a disdain for it. This trend has been amplified by the tighter immigrant restrictions. The key is finding candidates who thrive in our environment - open up the immigration lanes. 

Tags:  automation  immigration  labor  millennials 

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Labor Commentary (Ontario)

Posted By Luke Sternberg, Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Building a pallet is hard work, the lack of interest is also a big part of the labor issue. I see an advancement in automation as part of the solution to finding labor. As labor costs continue to increase, it may be the only way to stay competitive.

The increase in minimum wage in Ontario has added challenges to recruiting. There are more positions in the market now with similar pay. General labor manufacturing roles with non-skilled help are our biggest competition for labor. Automation will help over the coming years.

Tags:  automation  employee  labor  trade schools  training 

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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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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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