Mining ‘Diamond’ Employees Today (Part 1)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“Lately, it hasn’t been easy to hire good employees. What recommendations do you have? How is the process different for finding outstanding line workers, route personnel and supervisors/managers?”

Healthcare Laundry: Charles Loelius, Cleantex, Irvington, N.J.

Yogi Berra once said, “If they don’t wanna work for you, nobody’s gonna stop ’em.”

True words, indeed, as finding the right people for the right job at the right time can sometimes prove to be an arduous undertaking.

Labor-intensive industries such as commercial laundries need to stay one step ahead in the recruitment and hiring of employees.

In all my years in this business, I have been most fortunate in always being able to recruit and retain a solid, dependable workforce. What’s my secret?

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Charles Loelius

Charles Loelius

Be a magnet employer. The laundry business is not glamorous. No one has ever dreamed of being a laundry worker. The work is hard, but it can be rewarding, enjoyable and fun. I have always strived to make the workplace a safe, professional environment, with plenty of inexpensive employee appreciation initiatives. Some of my best practices cost nothing: getting to know your employees, having an open-door policy, and giving plenty of smiles, good mornings and thank-yous. Throw in an occasional pizza party or coffee and donuts to celebrate a plant achievement and you will see a marked improvement in employee retention.

Employee referrals. I encourage employee referrals, particularly when they come from my best workers. The referring employee knows both what we look for in an employee, as well as what the job entails. There are rarely any surprises on either end.

Second chances. Everyone deserves a second chance, and we provide it by recruiting from outreach programs and halfway houses. We have had great success in this arena, with a very low rate of recidivism.

A deep bench. We have two ongoing initiatives that keep us staffed. The first is on-call employees.

Laundry work is not for everyone. As part of the hiring process, laundry workers are first brought in as on-call workers, where they will work a part-time schedule for as many as 30 days. This “tryout” period affords the employee ample training time, as well as time to get up to production rate.

Second is driver helpers. We will either promote from in-house, or hire from outside, driver helpers. These are licensed employees who have not had sufficient time behind the wheel to qualify for a driver position. Like the on-call position, the driver helper position allows time to further develop driving skills while learning the intricacies of distribution.

Promote from within. I look to promote from within wherever possible. It is always my primary choice. First and foremost, I already know the employee; I know his or her dependability and passion for the job at hand. The employee already knows the work, the people and the management. Secondly, when the team sees that excellence will lead to advancement, it promotes higher productivity and better employee retention. Throw out any preconceived notions you may have and promote based solely on performance and potential.

Last week, as I was making my rounds through the plant, I was struck by the sight of my production manager, production supervisor and clean-scale operator. All had recently received well-deserved promotions, and all were female. I thought to myself, “You don’t see that every day, but you should.”

Invest in talent. Not all positions can, or should be, filled from within. My company’s philosophy is to make the investment in talented people when they are discovered, rather than when an opening occurs. In this way, we are able to maintain a strong management pool, which assures our continued steady growth.

Chemicals Supply: David Barbe, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.

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David Barbe

David Barbe

Hiring is tough. There’s no easy way to guarantee success. To make the best decisions, I’ve found it’s best to be as organized and methodical as possible.

The hiring process for different positions varies by education, personality and experience. Route personnel need to understand your business and be organized and personable people. They are the face of your company to your customers.

With supervisors/managers, one can’t assume that good workers make good supervisors. Try to find people that have supervisory experience, or have very good people skills and are experienced in your industry. Employees rightfully resent answering to someone who knows less about the job than they do.

The actual process is similar for every position. First, think of what type of minimum qualifications you need for the position you need to fill. Don’t demand more education or experience than you need. We all know people without great educational credentials who are smart, motivated people. Clearly describe what the job entails, with hours and pay range. Let the applicants eliminate themselves if they can’t work those hours or for the pay you can afford.

Second, assuming you’ve advertised, posted notices on company bulletin boards, etc., you should have a stack of applicants. Now sort them carefully, eliminating those with sketchy work history, poor or no references, etc. If you are looking for a specific skill set that you can’t easily teach, eliminate those with unrelated work history.

Third, do the hard work. Call references, ask good questions, check backgrounds, and do everything else you can to get a feel for each person. Previous employers are hesitant to say anything negative for fear of repercussions. Try asking them if they would hire the same person again. If you can find those people on social media, you can check their interests and maybe get a feel for them.

Now interview those who are left. This is your final chance to narrow the field down to the best candidates. I have a firm conviction that character counts. If you can find honest, motivated people, you can train them to do lots of things. If one of your better current employees highly recommends a particular candidate, that’s a big plus.

Finally, choose the one you have the best feel for. Trust your judgment.

Consulting Services: Jon Witschy, Spindle, Woodridge, Ill.

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Jon Witschy

Jon Witschy

I’ve attended several trade conferences where this has been a topic of conversation, whether informal or on the event agenda. 

Competing on wages—especially with the minimum wage on the rise—and getting good personnel who are suited to our industry is a challenge faced in most markets.

Unfortunately, I’m asked, “Do you know a good manager/engineer/driver?” much more often than I’m told, “I’m looking for a new opportunity in the laundry industry.” There appear to be more slots to fill than there is talent available.

Engineers and managers can be tough, since there is not typically a “Textile Laundry” curriculum in schools. I have a textile engineering technology degree myself, but my education focused on fiber and fabric manufacturing processes (not finishing), the chemistry of dyeing (not cleaning), and the logistics of taking raw material to finished goods (not then handling reusable textiles). Ongoing training and development are thus extremely important.

In engineering, plants should engage personnel with specific aptitudes in the electrical and mechanical fields. These days, knowledge of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and computers certainly helps, too. Once onboard, they should be directed to take advantage of the training opportunities available from vendors and trade associations.

For managers, there are a lot of facets to the laundry that need to be understood, so growing them in-house would be best. Whether homegrown or not, you should expose them to the same training opportunities referenced above and encourage their participation in seminars, plant tours, and trade shows.  Give them as much experience to the variety that this industry presents, and they can gain the knowledge to best manage and improve your operation.

With route personnel, service and delivery experience are key components. Make sure drivers also have good communication and personal skills, since they are the face of your company with your customers each day. This is another area where you can grow someone in-house, where they might occasionally ride a route before getting a full-time driver position.

For line workers, the industry has challenges just getting help that is consistent and shows up to work. Different positions in the laundry require different motions (soil sorting, small-piece ironer, large-piece ironer, small-piece folder, garment hanging, etc.).

One thing that could help vet and ensure retention of employees is using motion testing during the interview process. A couple of examples are the Purdue Pegboard Test and the Minnesota Manual Dexterity Test. Such tests are frequently used for occupational therapy, but they can also be applied to evaluate how suited a candidate is for some of the repetitive tasks in the laundry.

For all positions, I’ve seen businesses have success with referral programs. I recall one that provides a nice compensation to employees for referring someone who is hired and stays onboard for a specified period.  The employees thus become “headhunters” at a significantly lower cost. They know the jobs well, so they can identify others who would fit, and—since their incentive is based on a successful hire—they typically refer reliable candidates.

Good luck!

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion with thoughts from hotel/motel/resort laundry, uniforms/workwear manufacturing and textiles experts.

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