WMA Headlines October 2019

July 19th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

The Labor Shortage: For Millwork, It’s About Creating Opportunities

By Rosalie Leone

As America continues to confront an unprecedented shortage for skilled labor, finding qualified workers in the building trades and manufacturing remains a challenge. This is due in large part to a lack of younger people entering these markets, while their seniors look to retire. Working-class baby boomers are retiring en masse and, when it comes to skilled labor jobs, millennials don’t
seem to be interested in picking up the slack. But let’s not be fooled by appearances.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 76 million baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) are expected to retire over the next few years, reducing their labor participation rate from 80% to below 40% by 2022. In this country, 10,000 boomers reach retirement age every day, leaving six million jobs in their wake each month. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has entered the longest sustained economic growth period in history—at more than 122 months—also extending the longest employment expansion on record since 1854. Combined, it comes as no surprise that these conditions have resulted in labor shortages across the board.

To make matters worse, e-commerce sales have risen steadily over the past 20 years and show no signs of stopping, placing higher expectations on companies that fulfill and produce products sold online. In a series of efforts to attract and retain workers, Amazon recently announced that over the next six years it will invest $700 million into automation and advanced technology training. Walmart, AT&T and other organizations have announced similar investment strategies.

So, where does the millwork industry fall in all of this? Between a rock and a hard place, if truth be told. There are challenges on several fronts, with shortages at production lines, in supply chains and e-commerce sales, as well as in custom work.

Changing Times

It’s an interesting dilemma we find ourselves in and a far cry from ten years ago, when the recession had pre-hangers and millwork specialists adopting the motto “keep on keepin’ on,” while looking for ways to expand their product offerings in order to diversify and stay afloat.

Rather than have history repeat itself (as often tends to be the case), it’s worth contemplating where the millwork industry sees itself in the years ahead and how it plans to address the labor shortage in order to achieve that vision.

Let’s recap the current issues, while adding some other factors into the mix:
• Worker shortages in production, delivery and millwork installation;
• Rises in e-commerce;
• Company mergers and closings; and
• The development of new technologies.

All of these factors play heavily into what the millwork industry will look like a decade from now. Rather than take a back seat to see where the cards fall, it’s imperative that we take the time to proactively direct. In doing so, let’s keep at the forefront of our thoughts, what makes the millwork industry unique: a people-oriented industry that’s creative, high-tech, custom-oriented and hands-on.

Set the Net

There is definitely a substantial segment of next-generation workers who aren’t interested in pursuing traditional, white-collar jobs and are seeking other opportunities. The industry’s investments and commitment to providing education, training and development opportunities will empower those workers, leading us into the next generation of millwork.

How do we see the labor shortage unfolding and resolving? For millwork, that, as they say, remains to be seen. But for sure, these next-generation workers will be integral to spearheading the industry’s future if they are afforded the chance.

Rosalie Leone is CEO and president for World Millwork Alliance.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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