Attracting Qualified Woodworking Employees

Employers and workers discuss how to advertise effectively for good help, and how to separate the wheat from the chaff in the responses. February 27, 2013

Currently we are looking to hire an installer for both residential and commercial installs with a background in the shop to help in between jobs. Even though many shops have closed over the past 3 years, we have not seen any qualified people looking for employment. Any ideas for attracting or locating and qualifying this person, and hourly range? We are in So. Calif. and pay 5 holidays, 1 week vacation, and partial health insurance.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor A:
It sounds like you are asking how to get the magically right person to show up and say they are ready to work. It isn't that easy, of course.

Craigslist: Put in what you are looking for, necessary qualifications and experience, and absolutely include starting pay. Mention what type of shop environment you have, benefits, performance expectations. Have an email just for hiring that they reply to.

Within a few hours, you might have 60 resumes to go through. Three piles: No; Maybe; Star (for the standouts). You are looking for things that set this person apart. Job bouncers go in the No pile. If they take the time to write a well-thought-out reply along with their resume, they are more likely to be a Star. Most resumes won't even meet your minimum requirements.

Ideally, you are looking for someone with a stable work history, good attitude (it can come through in the resume), hungry, ready to work soon (if they can't make arrangements to start work very soon, it probably won't happen). There may be other things that stand out - achievements that indicate an unusually high performer.

I have gotten good enough using this method that I can have the new hire show up and I don't even have to be there. The crew knows what to do with them. If they don't cut it, we cut them lose as quickly as possible. But our success rate has gotten so high, this rarely happens.

About pay - we are often told "pay what the person is worth." This is so wrong in approach. We are not tailor making a position for this person. We have a position that has X requirements, starts at $14/hr, and we want the highest qualified person that will work for that wage (or whatever that position pays to start).

Yes, you will find exceptional workers for modest wages. That is the reality of the work place today, and if they agree to it, nothing is wrong with us making some good money off them. After this recession, you are going to begrudge the business owner trying to make some money? I don't think so.

From the original questioner:
It's been awhile since I've had a premium employee. I would like someone able to go from start to finish on a job without constant supervision. As far as wage what would be realistic with the benefits?

From contributor J:
It's been over 20 years since I spent any time in southern California, and I wasn't even a woodworker at the time. I have no idea what the going rate is for someone who's both versatile and independent. I can say is that 2 weeks of paid vacation after one or two years has been pretty standard in the skilled jobs I've held. Partial health insurance is typical but meaningless since we don't know how good the coverage is, how much it costs, or how much you're contributing.

From the Staff at WOODWEB:
You are welcome to post an "Offering Employment" listing at WOODWEB's Job Exchange. The cost is minimal, and your ad will reach a wide audience of WOODWEB visitors.

WOODWEB's Job Exchange

From contributor O:
For what it's worth, here's a link to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics compensation survey for Los Angeles from April, 2010. It doesn't get super-specific, but...

Construction and extraction occupations range from $11.11 to $34.18 per hour depending on skill level, averaging $24.40.
Carpenters averaged $29.52 per hour.
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations ranged from $9.39 to $43.03 per hour, with an average of $26.36.
Production occupations range from $9.25 to $26.29 per hour, averaging $14.86.
Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders average $9.26.

From contributor S:
Advertise the rate. As someone who applies for jobs, I hate the "industry competitive wage."
State what you expect the person to be able to do - low to middle ground expectations.
State what pay they will get for that level.
Also state that for a lower wage you are willing to train some, and for very well qualified individuals you will go higher.
Clearly state there is a 2 week trial. At the end of that trial there will be another interview and possible adjustments to the wage.

In that interview chart a plan, for example… "You aren't as well qualified as I thought. You aren't worth $18 an hour to me. Yet. Right now you need more checking and more instruction than I would like. I'll offer you $15 for the next month. During that month I want you to learn to do a, b, c, and d unsupervised, and start learning e, and f. On the basis of that at the end of the month, you will get a raise to $18, which is the person I need for this job."

At the end of that month, either let him go if he isn't learning, or chart out what he needs to know/do to get the next step up.

In our area Kijiji is bigger than Craigslist. There are various job boards out there. Different ones cater to different classes. Locally Workopolis, while Manpower is white collar. EdmontonJobShop is mostly trades, transport and oil patch. These sites cost money, but not nearly as much as not having a person does.

Consider sweetening the deal with things that don't cost you much… Offer part time positions to older retired workers. May be a lot of people out there who are finding that social security isn't very secure, and frankly they are bored.

We have a local appliance repairman who makes house calls. He must be 70, and does everything in slow motion. But he sure knows his stuff. Talking to him, he does 3 repairs a day. Sometimes he's done before noon, sometimes he's not finished until 6. He makes a good living doing this.

Another perk: Give flexible schedules. Make it easy for a single parent to take time off when the kids are on holidays. Let them choose either to have their pay averaged over whatever they do, or to not get paid for the weeks they don't work.

Or offer to hire people to fit the school day. They don't come in until 9:15 after they dropped the kids off, and they leave at 3:00 to pick the kids up.

You may be able to balance that by hiring high school kids after school. If you can get a couple kids who, for minimum wage keep the inventory in the right place, keep the floor clean, and have the trucks loaded for the next morning's delivery, you may have a win. If he shows interest, see if you can apprentice him.

From experience doing this, kids need close to constant supervision. Best if someone works with them, especially if it's more complicated than pushing a broom.

Think - can having an extra pair of hands make this work move better? Having someone on the far end of the table saw receiving and stacking pieces. Having a gofer to set up the next set of doors for spraying, and putting the done ones on the drying racks. If this increases your finisher's time use by 50% but only increases the payroll by 35%, you're ahead.

From contributor G:
Well thought out response, above. Another reason you might be having trouble finding someone is that many people with experience have left the trade altogether. A good woodworker makes the same or less these days than when I started out in the late eighties. Benefits are close to non-existent. When I started the going rate for framers in Los Angeles was $25/hr, and finish carpenters made around $35. That's 20+ years ago. Up until the recession I had no problem getting $50/hr for cabinet installs. I left the business after things dried up for me in 2008, and although I make less, I enjoy what I do and can continue doing it for many more years. Guys like me with experience don't move quite as fast as the younger ones, but don't make the costly mistakes either.

I check out the Craigslist ads a couple times a week, and I really don't see any worth responding to. Usually there is no starting wage quoted, and the general tone of the ads is disrespectful to an honest, hard-working, talented and experienced tradesman in this industry. To answer the question more specifically, I would think that in Southern California you would have to offer a minimum of $35/hr to get a qualified individual to install your cabinets unsupervised and interact with your customers in their homes.