NASHVILLE - Wood product executives, higher-ups, and sales staff discussed the main challenges affecting their businesses at a recent Wood Products Manufacturers Association (WPMA) meeting in Nashville.

Nearly all of them named the same three issues: an inability to find workers, tariffs, and problems in trucking. 

Finding skilled workers who hold good work ethics seems to be the most dominant issue plaguing the wood product industry. Low unemployment rates, rural shop locations, and millennial lack of interest and work ethic seem to be primary reasons, according to WPMA members.

Leon Osborne, of Georgia-based Osborne Wood Products, says Osborne is choosing to be less selective when hiring workers. Ex-cons and other previously barred candidates are being considered for hire. The company is also being more flexible with younger employees - granting them more accommodating schedules so long as they get the job done.

Other firms are offering younger workers incentives to work, including paying a portion of their college tuition. One attendee said his shop allows a young worker to leave the shop early certain days to play in a baseball league.

Others are hiring them only for specific roles, like marketing and social media.

Harry Watt, wood products specialist at North Carolina State University, suggested incentivizing good work with increased pay, quarterly bonuses based on profitability, holding monthly meetings asking for improvement suggestions, and to simply clean up the shop and supporting areas. He also suggested doing a turkey and ham for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Many attendees complained about the work ethics of millennials and i-Gen (people born after 1995). 

"What's the least I can do to keep my job?" asked Industrial Compressor Solutions owner Josh Wamser of millennials and i-Gen somewhat jokingly. 

A lack of interest and problems in work ethic could plague the trades and manufacturing industry for some time. How can we address this in the long term? More woodshop classes? More emphasis on career and technical education?

How do we make kids interested in the trades?

Let us know in the comments.


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