How to Attract Top Talent to Your Wood Shop

For years, the trades have battled poor optics with Millennial and Gen Z workers. White-hot demands in the wood industry have made the problem increasingly dire for many cabinet makers and wood shops. Three key strategies can help you attract and keep entry level employees.

When it comes to your labor force, you don’t need to read the latest jobs report to know retention and acquisition is a very real — and increasingly dire — problem. Across manufacturing, skilled labor costs and availability are both top concerns.

According to a recent study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, manufacturers say it is 36 percent harder to find talent now than in 2018. And 77 percent of executives surveyed expect attracting and retaining workers to be one of their biggest challenges moving forward.

While this challenge isn’t new, white-hot demand for home renovations and new home construction as the pandemic subsides means that many cabinet makers and wood shops are feeling the impact of low employee recruitment and retention much more acutely than before.

At the same time, the makeup of their prospective workforce is also undergoing dramatic changes. As older generations age out of the workforce, younger generations are taking their place. In fact, Millennial and Gen Z workers now account for well over 50 percent of the workforce. That percentage is expected to rise to 70 percent by 2025.

3 Ways to Understand and Motivate Millennial and Gen Z Workers

For years, manufacturing and the trades have battled poor optics. Young workers tend to flock toward careers in information technology, because they see IT and tech companies as forward thinking — innovative workplaces that will support their talents, grow their skills, and empower their success.

To reverse this trend by attracting and retaining top talent to the wood industry, cabinet makers and wood shops need to recognize what they can do better and make it happen. We’ve synthesized key research on Millennials and Gen Z into three strategies to build a workplace that delivers on their core values.

  1. Create opportunities for career advancement.
  2. Support a healthy work-life balance.
  3. Demonstrate a focus on innovation.

1. Create Opportunities for Career Advancement

Despite prevailing misconceptions about Millennial employees, many are actually quite ambitious. Give them a reason to stick around—and a clear path forward—and they won’t let you down.

In fact, according to research by FSH and Hart Research Associates, young workers are twice as likely to stay with an employer for more than a year if they see their job as a career. One of the best ways to create a career mindset for your entry-level employees is to clearly spell out the advancement opportunities available to them and the steps they can take to get there.

For entry level workers who handle general labor or installation tasks, leveling up to wood finishing tasks, such as spraying, can demonstrate your investment in their career. Making this transition a smooth one revolves around having quality equipment that is easy to use. It can simplify employee education and minimize the associated productivity losses due to training time, learning mistakes, and rework.

Investing in the right spray gun equipment that supports even spray performance and simple maintenance can make introducing an employee advancement strategy a no brainer for any wood finishing operation.

2. Support a Healthy Work-Life Balance

If you look at just about any of the job descriptions posted by the tech giants seeking Millennials and Gen Z, you’ll likely spot a reference to the company’s clear prioritization of employee work-life balance. That’s because both generations prioritize their lives outside of their jobs as much, or more, than their working lives.

According to one survey, 83 percent of Millennials ranked work-life balance as the most important factor when evaluating a job prospect. This is compared to just 62 percent of older workers who considered it an important job factor.

One of the easiest ways to achieve the right balance between employee work-life and business productivity is to invest in technology and tools that allow your employees to become more efficient and maintain consistent working hours, day-to-day and week-to-week. For example, upgrading from manual to automated processes can introduce game-changing efficiency that improves productivity and output across the board.

If your shop uses manual processes for greater control and attention to detail, spray guns design for superior uptime and spray performance can remove frustrating inefficiencies from the end-to-end process. Add good gun ergonomics  a visible sign that you are investing in the elevated work-life balance your employees seek.

3. Demonstrate a Focus on Innovation

Millennial and Gen Z workers continue to flock to brand-new startups because they like to work where innovation is the expectation. And they like feeling like their work had a positive impact on the world.

According to one Deloitte survey, 78 percent of Millennial workers feel innovation is essential for business growth. Yet, only 52 percent of them feel their current workplace fosters business innovation.

Unfair or not, to attract Millennial and Gen Z cohorts, manufacturers must overcome a reputation for doing things the way they’ve "always been done." This perceived lack of forward-thinking is about technology and process innovation.

Wood shops can change this narrative by showcasing their ability to listen to new ideas and implement them when the business case is strong. For example, strategic technology updates can vastly improve finishing speed and quality. Upgrading outdated spray guns with more reliable choices can lead to long-term efficiency and uptime gains.

While it seems like a simple investment, improving finishing equipment uptime and consistency can quickly pay for itself many times over. Not to mention, the added employee satisfaction gained by having more time to focus on creating tangible, meaningful projects that make a house into a home. 

Your Reputation for Innovation and Job Satisfaction

These three strategies are just a starting place for more effective Millennial and Gen Z recruitment and retention, but investing in them now can create a snowball effect as your reputation grows.

Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful factors your business can have on its side. Creating an innovative, employee-first work environment can go a long way toward sparking the buzz you need to get a leg up on the competition

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