ROANOKE, Va. — Today there are more jobs available than there are people looking for jobs. Over my years in management I have seen the job market fluctuate but never quite to this extreme. 

The laundry industry is an entry-level industry, usually staffed by the latest wave of legal immigrants, but the potential pool of employees is shrinking at a very fast rate. The current administration is doing all it can to reduce immigration and make sure that those who do come have job skills that would exclude them from the laundry industry. 

So, what should a manager do during these times?

The first thing they should do is look to reduce their turnover as much as possible. Carefully conduct exit interviews to determine why people are leaving and then actively work on eliminating those reasons.  

Contrary to popular opinion, salary is not the No. 1 reason people leave. Working conditions and how an employee is treated have far more to do with their happiness than money. 

Employees want to be treated fairly and equally with their fellow employees. The concept of shared pain is well understood. A work schedule that unfairly burdens a small group of employees with most of the weekend work is not well accepted. 

Employees like to feel part of a team and want to know how their company or branch is doing. Frequent communication from their supervisors and managers about how the business is doing is important.

I managed a healthcare laundry for 44 years and always wanted my employees to know how important clean textiles were to the successful operation of the hospitals we served. 

They understood the special commitment our customers (hospitals) had to the community they served on a 24-hour-a-day basis, 365 days a year. They understood that when strong storms passed through the area, the demands on these customers greatly increased, so it was important for them to make it to work. I always took time during and after these occasions to thank my employees for their dedication to the patients we served. 

I also listened to my employees as they expressed their preferences and needs. I had one employee who was a great worker and would have excelled wherever I put her, but she preferred to run towels through a towel folder. Her production on this machine exceeded anyone else in the laundry. Some employees asked to be able to change work assignments on a daily or half-day basis. 

In talking with many of the employees, I found an equally large group that liked the job they were doing and did not want to move around. I was able to keep both groups happy because we listened to their needs, wants, and desires and accommodated their preferences into our system. An employee could request a singular work assignment or a rotating job assignment based on their needs.

Sometimes the desire to rotate was driven by a religious aspect of their lives. During the month of Ramadan, many of my Muslim employees did not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. While the dates of this celebration changed year to year, they often fell in the heat of the summer. These employees request more frequent job rotation during this month to help them meet their religious goals. We were happy to comply. 

Much has been written lately about hiring the disabled to work in the laundry. This is not a new concept, and back in 1977 I participated in a job training program for this type of individual in Davis County, Utah. It was fairly new back, then as the concept of these individuals going to work and becoming self sufficient was a brand-new idea. 

Over the years I have had great success in hiring recent legal refugees from various trouble areas in the world. There are a number of organizations that work with and assist this group of potential employees. We did our on-site job training by the “show and do” method. I have experienced this group of employees to be very loyal and very happy to have a job. 

Managers will need to be creative in this tight employment market in order to maintain proper staffing levels. Finding a potential source of new employees make take a little effort on your part. 

I would encourage you to talk with Goodwill and look for an English as a Second Language class in your area. Start asking about their contacts and what other organizations are working with this potential group of employees. Tell them you are looking for employees and are willing to work with their restrictions. Not only will you be helping your operation but you will be considered a valuable part of the community.