Repercussions of the Skilled Labor Gap: A conversation with Bestbath

Bestbath and SGC Horizons recently sat down to discuss the job gap in the skilled labor force. This first segment in the 3 part series discusses the repercussions of the skilled labor gap on the trades and manufacturing.



Next week, we’ll continue the conversation and discuss the challenges for trade professionals.

The following is a transcript of the video “Repercussions of the Skilled Labor Gap” :

Adam Grubb, SGC Horizon: Greg, how long have you been in the building products?

Greg Wells, Bestbath: About 10 years.

Adam: And how did you even get into that? How does one get into building product?

Greg: I got in by accident. So…

Adam: Like most, probably.

Greg: I think so, yeah. So I had a really terrible boss in the job that I was working at, and I had no future. And so I thought, “Well…

Adam: Here we go.

Greg: “I’m gonna sit here for the next 40 years, or I’m gonna go find something else to do.”

Adam: And you found this.

Greg: I did, yeah. Yeah, I ended up actually really liking it because you think about the building industry overall. You think, “God, it’s kind of old and stodgy. You know, it’s not changing.”

Adam: It was.

Greg: It was. Well, actually I was in the high tech industry before coming into the building industry. And the plan was to do, to take this job for a couple of years and next thing you know, it’s like holy crap, I’ve learned a lot. It’s fun. There’s great people.

Adam: And you just stuck in it.

Greg: I did.

Adam: Do we have a labor problem, a skills problem, or is this kind of blown out of proportion, do you think?

Greg: I think we have a serious problem in reality. If you look out there in the industry and you talk to the other professionals, you talk to remodelers, one of the number one things in their mind that they bring up is lack of skilled labor. They don’t have the history. They don’t have all the ins and outs of the industry. They don’t know the shortcuts, and I think the big part of it is the overall quality for the end job. They don’t have the experience to do the quality that we’re used to. That craftsmanship is really kind of missing in the people that are new to the industry.

Adam: This is market-wide, nation-wide, doesn’t matter, age gaps, demographics? Overall people just aren’t getting it done.

Greg: I think overall it’s just not getting it done. I mean, you look at where we were in 2006, for example, when the market started to really drop. We had a lot of people leave the industry. At that time 2006, 2007, if you were building a house or doing a remodel, the best of the best were left in the industry. So you had some high quality…the craftsmen were really there.

As the markets improved, the people had left that were coming up through the industry. And so new ones are now entering, and we don’t have the mentors there to train them. They haven’t had the time to train them. So it’s grown fast enough that they don’t really have the skill set to be where they need to be, and it’s costing more money and it’s taking longer to do the job.

Adam: This isn’t a career where you don’t need trained or don’t need a mentor or you can just…some might be able to step on and understand the concepts, but I mean, they need help. They need to be taught how to do this stuff.

Greg: They do.

Adam: You say that that’s not happening.

Greg: It’s not happening. There’s just not the people there to help them. So you have somebody, you know, back in the day you hang up your shingle and you go to work. Anybody can swing a hammer, but it’s that craftsmanship to really do it right, that’s what’s missing.

Adam: And with the products now, you’re probably having more installation, more difficult installations for some of the product lines in homes than ever before because of the new designs and the new trends that are happening in the market space. And homeowners needing stuff that they’re seeing on HGTV or houses on Pinterest, right? They’ve got very specific ideas. You can’t have someone who can just put something in, you have to have somebody who understands the vision and the design.

Greg: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. Not only do they have to understand that vision, they have to know, obviously, how to pull it all together. So a lot of that, if it’s a homeowner that knows what they want, sure it’s easy. I shouldn’t say it’s easy. It’s easier, but you’ve got to find somebody that knows how to do it, and I think that’s kind of a two-fold issue really on that, Adam, is it’s incumbent on the manufacturers because the manufacturers know that there is the shortage of skilled labor. So manufacturers need to develop products that are easier to install because homeowners sure aren’t getting less demanding.

Adam: Wouldn’t that just perpetuate the problem?

Greg: You know, potentially. So I guess that’s the key. Is it easier to install and hire quality and cheaper? I guess it goes back to which two of the three do you want? So I think it’s incumbent on the manufacturers so if they do create and develop new products that they’re easier to install, longer lasting. But they also then, how do manufacturers help train the installers? So there’s a lot of technology out there with videos. They can do some training. They can do some webinars and whatnot, but the fact is to do it right, you learn how to do it through experience.

Adam: I mean, there are more platforms now than ever before when it comes to educating the workforce in a market segment. You would think that it would be easier. You would think that we would be getting better and the labor force would be getting stronger because of everything that’s at their fingertips. But you’re saying and most people are saying that almost overnight, this has become catastrophic for our industry.

Greg: I think it has, and keep in mind it’s not like people were standing on the sidelines waiting for a job. So you have people that were in the industry that have left the industry, and they’re not coming back. And so as we grow and have a greater need for labor, again, it’s really not there. So you have to entice people to come in here. They have to get paid enough that they’re willing to switch jobs that they have, and on top of that, be able to not just switch but actually be able to do it.

Adam: There are some that are laborers now that can literally pick their jobs, can pick when they work, and pick their pay because of their ability to do welding, for instance. To find that is finding gold, and they know it, and some take advantage of it, but most of them know that, “Look, I can work when I want. I can pick the jobs I want, and get paid what I want to get paid because I’m so good at this.” And that doesn’t happen very often. There’s not a lot of jobs where…and market segments where that’s the case.

Greg: No, it isn’t. And so I think that’s a tremendous opportunity for somebody that does want to get into that, and understand exactly what you’re saying. You have increased flexibility. You have the opportunity to own your own business, to be your own boss, to have those workable hours. It doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of work, because we both know how physically demanding these types of positions are, but the opportunity right now to get started is tremendous.