The Other L Word

June 1, 2018

For the last two months (and rightly so) this column has dealt primarily with the crazy lumber markets. We have had some very good feedback from our members about the information that was communicated and wish to thank you for letting us know that it has been helpful. About two weeks ago I was contacted by another member who was lamenting about some other concerns. He stated that while the lumber situation we’re currently facing is certainly challenging, and definitely of concern, ultimately it is out of our control and there is nothing that we can do but ride out the storm. However, he continued, one thing that is in our control is internal cost containment, including labour, which is an area that we can collectively work towards making a positive impact.  

Labour struggles have been well documented, and in many regions of the country the availability of quality labourers able to fill the requirements of our businesses is shrinking. Relatively low unemployment figures and a generation seemingly adverse to physical labour has left many of our facilities struggling to keep production positions staffed with reliable people. This challenge leads to huge inefficiencies as the core employees are stretched thin, orders are not getting filled, overtime is required, extra staff are required to offset daily absenteeism, and there is a constant effort to train new staff as the revolving employee door continues to spin.

So what can we do about it? In order to help address the labour issue as an association we need two main things. The first and most important is data. Two years ago CWPCA conducted a Wage and Benefit survey aimed at building our databases and sharing information between members. We are  conducting another Wage and Benefit survey this year to help us gather the details to support future efforts to aid the Canadian wood packaging industry.  Over time, by repeating this effort we not only will be able to support the “real time” situation in the labour markets, but also identify trends that are useful in decision making for the future.  We ask that you take a few minutes to answer some questions. Once again, the data and information collected is 100% anonymous. Not only will the aggregated data be shared with members to help benchmark yourselves and but it will also be used to support CWPCA initiatives to assist our members and industry in general. One example that comes to mind would be the provision of data to support labour market evaluations for government initiatives such as the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. 

The second thing we need is ideas, namely solutions and best practices that could help the industry and our members. Coincidentally, after sharing a link to a story with the member mentioned in the opening, I was contacted by the article’s featured subject, James Ruder of L&R Pallet in Denver, Colorado. James faced a high employee turnover, sometimes reaching 300%, and trouble attracting workers. He then turned to the refugee population of Denver. Though he tackled some initial obstacles, he was able to adapt his company and turn his business into a real success story. In the past couple of years, James has been featured in Pallet Enterprise and Forbes amongst other publications, in addition to being a featured speaker at both the NWPCA and WPA general meetings. I have had the pleasure of listening to James speak and map out his journey to create stability in his workforce.. It’s quite a story, and I would suggest that you take a moment and also look at this article that was featured in Pallet Enterprise: It’s worth the read and it details how James dealt with his labour issues through the transformation of his company’s culture.

James reached out to us to extend an offer to our members to attend a fall workshop that he is hosting in September featuring a tour of his facility and education sessions focused on building company culture. The workshop is faith based, and James stated that while it is not for everyone he does want to make the opportunity available to his peers in the industry. We will be providing more information on this opportunity in upcoming editions of Bark Bits, but feel free to contact me if you have any questions or you may also reach out to Adrienne Tafilowski ( for registration details.

Our industry cannot succeed, let alone survive, if we lack the people and resources to build the products that we sell. Let’s find some solutions to labour issues faced by many of our members by sharing information and lessons that could help us all.


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