November 18, 2020
Today’s Freres Lumber blog features a question and answer session with our Human Resources Director Marilyn Gueltzow, and SEDCOR’s Retention and Expansion Manager Nick Harville. We will have a dynamic discussion about the challenges of hiring and retaining employees in today’s market.
1. We hear it’s been hard to find and retain employees, especially lately. What is your perspective on that problem?
Marilyn: I believe that our candidate pool and our attrition rate have been significantly impacted by a few things. First, large numbers of businesses are currently recruiting and hiring candidates as soon as they are available. Also, there is a fear of getting exposed to or infected with COVID-19. Lastly, the ease in which an employee can apply for unemployment benefits during this pandemic is problematic for employers.
Nick: For over 10 years SEDCOR has worked in job skills. While identifying the skills of those outstanding employees we also discovered the skills gap. A larger segment of employees are retiring with a significantly smaller pool of lesser skilled people from which to draw.
2. What are the expectations of Freres Lumber employees?
Marilyn: We expect our employees to arrive on time every day that they are scheduled to work. Our employees should strive to perform their jobs well, which includes following direction from leadership.
3. Why is Oregon’s unemployment rate so high?
Nick: Today the unemployment numbers are high, but before March of 2020 we had record low unemployment. That record low left a pool of potential employees with less desirable skills and/or no skills. Now, federal and state unemployment programs, renter protection and protection from paying other monthly bills is making it more profitable to not work. Those with more skills to offer have a wide spectrum of jobs available to them to pick from.
4. How do you create a pathway for workers to get into the wood products industry?
Nick: Most companies will agree that they need to reach down to the 7th and 8th grades to begin influencing students. This creates industry interest and educates students about the new industry. It is very different today then it was even a few years ago. SEDCOR has used the information gathered from hundreds of employee interviews to create “fundamental skills.” These skills can be taught in middle school and high schools and create a foundation on which particular job skills can be developed.
5. What are employers looking for right now in a candidate?
Marilyn: Employers are looking for dependability. We are looking for candidates who are quick learners. They should be dedicated to their team members and thrive in a highly labor intensive role.
Nick: We have observed that employers, regardless of industry, are looking for “fundamental skills” that are essentially the same. These fundamental skills include basic math like knowing weights and fractions. They should also be able to convert to decimals, and read a tape. Employers are looking for workers who follow basic safety and can pass a 10 hour OSHA training. There are about ten fundamental skills that a foundation can be built on. Employers are often willing to train people if they can offer all or most of these foundational skills.
6. How has COVID-19 affected work availability and unemployment in Oregon?
Marilyn: Speaking from the Freres perspective, our work availability is not significantly impacted by COVID-19. We have a strong sales order log and a steady production line. We have mitigated any safety concerns from the virus and have created a safety protocol should there be any exposure concerns. However, the ability to qualify for unemployment benefits during this pandemic when work is available is causing hiring challenges for us in maintaining our workforce.
Nick: COVID-19 has devastated employment, and is making many companies take drastic measures to keep employees safe. Also, it is difficult to follow state regulations and track exposed employees.
7. Are there any unique opportunities for workers in the wood products industry?
Nick: Yes, changing technologies, changing products and robotics are creating unique opportunities. With advancements in technology, employers seek employees who are quick learners, ready to try new tools and methods.
Marilyn: Well, at Freres the unique opportunities are varied. We have a full cycle wood products facility starting with sourcing, harvesting, debarking and lathing wood. The cycle then carries all the way to building plywood and manufacturing our current excellent Mass Ply product.
An employee can start in our trucking, timber, cat shop or millwright positions should they have the training. They can also start as a line worker and work their way up into the position of their dreams. We heavily promote from within and we are willing to provide assistance with further vocational training, should the employee show a dedication to the craft.
In addition to training, there are long-term employees who are willing to share their knowledge. The long-term stability of the wood products industry should be a draw for any candidate who wants to achieve a secure and stable family income.
8. What advice would you give to someone who is currently seeking work?
Marilyn: Fill out an application with our company. Start that process. We are willing to hire you on, train you and find out what your future holds. The possibilities are almost endless.
Nick: My advice is to know your skills. Most people have a good idea, if they are honest, what skills they have to offer. SEDCOR helps job seekers to identify their skill sets, and this is something I personally have done hundreds of times. Our survey gives a unique window into the actual skill sets of employees. It is a win win for employees to be hired and an employer to find better people better suited to the job position. Another resource for better understanding your skills would be Willamette Workforce Partnership.
9. What do you wish prospective employees knew about Freres Lumber?
Marilyn: Here at Freres, we are proud to be in business for almost 100 years. We have multiple plants at which to work and learn. Opportunities are available for those who want to achieve a solid profession in the wood industry. Some employees have been here 20-30 years and we are eager to install new personalities into our thriving workforce.
Q&A conducted by Nicole Miller PR Manager
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