When construction firms cite their biggest pain point in 2018, the answer is nearly universal: labor. The labor shortage has created unique concerns for lumberyards. Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel recently interviewed Norman Hunt, vice president of N.C. Hunt Lumber, a Jefferson, Maine sawmill and lumber yard with a truck fleet, about the effect of the shortage on his business.
When it comes to current challenges he faces, he doesn’t mince words. “Labor,” he said, when asked to identify the single biggest cause of his concerns. “Getting help and skilled labor.”
Facing the Labor Shortage
Labor is a problem across just about every area of his business. N.C. Hunt Lumber is currently looking for truck and equipment operators, salespeople, and a foreman. As Hunt says, “We could hire ten people today.”
He faces considerable competition from other lumberyards for the limited local labor pool.
He believes some of the conditions he observes could be unique to Maine. As a result of increased regulation, he says, “the younger people [in Maine] can’t find jobs and they moved out.” He has increased wages—by as much as $3 an hour—but even a wage increase can’t offset the powerful labor market forces working against his business. “It’s not a matter of how much we pay, because everyone is looking for help,” he says.
Sales Offset Labor Troubles
Fortunately, sales are going strong. Lumber prices are up due to environmental factors such as recent hurricanes. “We are selling lumber at 20 percent higher this year than we did last year,” he says, adding, “Gee whiz, our sales are good.” Increasing volume has proven an easier task than creating the staffing to make it all happen.
Norman Hunt’s and N.C. Hunt Lumber’s struggle with the labor shortage is far from unfamiliar to many lumber yards across the country. Until the shortage is resolved, lumber yards will continue to feel its effects. All the more reason for lumberyards to explore better technology, software, robotics, and smart equipment to help bridge the gap into a technologically-advanced future.