CHICAGO — Hiring new employees has been difficult for the laundry and linen services industry for some time.
Even before the events of the past few years, operators were struggling to onboard key personnel such as plant employees, engineers and management.
“Like many industries, hiring remains a challenge,” says Jeff Peterson, sales manager at Spin Linen in Omaha, Nebraska. “We’ve had to re-evaluate everything from compensation to job duties, as well as get more innovative in our job postings to attempt to stand out.
“There doesn’t appear to be a magic bullet, so we are experimenting and tweaking our approach constantly.”
Fortunately, hiring in the industry is improving.
“There seems to be a positive shift lately,” shares Frank Maresca Jr., vice president of WW Uniforms in Wallingford, Connecticut. “The traction for getting new potential employees is increasing.
“The past has been an absolute struggle—from striking interest and applying to the open job to an employee accepting an interview or the position and the person doesn’t show up at all.
“Nevertheless, in recent months there has been an increase in applications and acceptance of the said available jobs.”
“We have started to see our labor pool open up a bit over the last couple quarters,” agrees Ben Warnecke, a fourth-generation family member and general manager at Plymate Inc. in Shelbyville, Indiana.
“Incenting and promoting our employee referral program has resulted in quite a few great hires for Plymate in recent years. We are laser-focused on onboarding and employee engagement once we make a hire, so, thankfully, we don’t find ourselves with more than a couple openings very often.”
Kleen Kraft Services in Commerce, California, has also had success with employee referrals onboarding qualified, dedicated workers.
“In general, we have very little turnover,” says Marilyn McCarty, marketing manager. “Many of our staff have been here for over 10 years and some as long as 40 years. I think this speaks to the type of operation that we run, the pay and benefits offered, and the feeling of belonging.
“Most of our new hires come in as referrals from current employees—drivers, sales reps, office staff—have all come in as referrals. With referrals like this, we can anticipate that the worker will be qualified and that they have a good idea of the work expected.”
While there are signs of improvement in the laundry labor market, many laundry operators still face difficulties.
“Hiring new employees remains a challenge for Paris,” says David Stern, president and CEO, Paris Companies in DuBois, Pennsylvania. “We are getting enough applications for most hires; however, the quality of the applicants has deteriorated from pre-pandemic.”
A major challenge is enticing younger employees to enter the laundry and linen services industry. Many don’t see it as a viable career option and aren’t prepared for the effort needed to succeed.
And some aren’t even aware that the laundry industry exists.
So, how can a laundry operator attract the next generation of laundry employees?
BENEFITS OF A CAREER IN LAUNDRY
All of this begs the question: How can operations better share with younger generations that the laundry industry is a beneficial career?
“Sell the service as a marketing/branding opportunity (branded work apparel) within a green industry,” says Ed Heilman CEO of Ace Imagewear in Houston.
“What we do is sustainable. We re-use clothing, provide a centralized, highly efficient processing system that uses the smallest amount of natural resources and cleans the water before returning it to the local municipalities.”
Rick Antman, director of operations for Kleen Kraft Services, says, “The benefit that I share with younger employees at the plant is that we are a business-to-business company. We don’t have to deal with unruly customers coming into our business.”
“Marketing it as a fun and rewarding, stable industry,” says Warnecke. “Offering job trials and creative scheduling when possible.”
“Longevity, the need for our services, technology,” says Maresca. “The industry is a strong service to many different companies and industries.
“You will be able to meet and interact with so many different types of companies and industries. You can, as a driver/salesperson, be almost your own boss on the road.”
“Many of our team leaders and managers came from the rank and file,” Stern points out. “Having these leaders spend time with applicants and share their story is useful.”
“I believe that strides are being made,” Peterson says. “The appeals of this industry are in stability, growth, personal development, and opportunity and the ability to see the results of your work in a tangible way—every single day. And compensation.
“It’s about marketing at this point and getting innovative on how to appeal to the value that we absolutely do possess to potential candidates of all ages.”
How are laundry operators working to reach younger candidates for jobs in the washroom?
“We get young employees at the plant because we have an aunt/uncle or a parent that refer them here to work because they are usually sitting at home on their phone doing nothing,” Antman shares.
“Partnering with local schools, setting up an open house, job trial or glimpse into the operation to allow young candidates to see what it all looks like behind the scenes,” Warnecke says.
“Good pay, employee interaction, employee welfare outings and overall camaraderie between top management to productive workers,” shares Maresca.
“Did I say company culture? Excite them with the technology that is used to handle all the garments, explaining this is not a laundromat, but rather a sophisticated washing process that is a steward in green sustainability and ecological concerns.”
Peterson says, “By accentuating the communal and team aspects of the work and by making the goals and directives very transparent and clear.
“Make them feel like they’re a part of something and then hold them accountable. It can’t be marketed as assembly line work; it has to be framed as the nerve center.”
“I think sometimes the stigma of the laundry operation is in the basement with sweatshop image,” Stern says. “Our industry is far from that and highly automated.
“Job shadowing helps prospective employees see good working conditions and interact with employees that are positive about working in the plant”
Heilman adds, “Make it fun.”
To attract the next generation of management to the industry, Peterson says, “With young professionals, it’s vital to give them a roadmap with a clear trajectory of what their career path will be.
“The work we do is critical to many industries, and we really do make an impact with real results every day. There are many industries with vague or nebulous outcomes, and this is very much not one of them. That’s cool!
“Also, this is an industry with aging leadership, and it’s very important to accentuate that we are looking to cultivate the next generation to take their place.”
Stern adds, “Working through universities, trade schools and business colleges are good sources to attract young admin and management candidates.”
Once a laundry and linen service has recruited and hired a next-generation employee, what can an operator do to keep them engaged in a position, encouraging them to make the industry a long-term career?
“Consistent communication and recognition from the top,” Warnecke says. “Key leaders from within the organization should all play a role in the development and ongoing engagement of younger new hires to help them see and understand we are willing to invest time, training and resources into their long-term success.”
“This one is simple: Articulate the ‘why’ to them over and over again,” says Peterson. “Make them be a part of something—both from a team perspective and also turning tasks and duties into missions and goals.
“Ask their opinion. Young workers are creative and resourceful. Utilizing those talents will improve an organization and make them feel valued.”
“Like any generation, good training and constant feedback around expectations are what keeps employees engaged,” Stern concludes.
Read Part 1 with next-generation insights from a human resources expert by clicking HERE. Part 2 with laundry operator views can be read HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].