Scott Roberts

History shows every generation’s best and brightest will go where the greatest opportunities are, notes Tony Misura, president of the Misura Group.

Trouble is, LBM is not that place.

That's especially vexing for Misura because his Minneapolis-based firm gets paid to find executive talent for building material suppliers. He and Bill Tucker, account executive with the Charlotte, N.C.-based recruiting company Schaffer Associates, both say they’re finding it hard to locate people in their late 20s to early 40s who could fill middle-management positions.

“The best, brightest, and those most comfortable with risk left the LBM industry,” Misura says. And many of those who left didn’t go voluntarily; they were pushed out the door by companies that needed to cut staff and often chose to do so by firing newer, younger staff.

Now that housing starts have begun moving upward, dealers need those younger workers. “Our phone is beginning to ring and we’re getting people inquiring about hiring,” says Tucker, who until recently was president of the Florida Building Material Association.

Their job is hampered by what LBM recruiters describe as unrealistic expectations of current upper-management officials regarding how many candidates there are. And when they do turn up good people, Misura and Tucker find the candidates are nervous about pursuing new opportunities.

As a result, the recruiters say, many execs nearing retirement may have to work longer than planned. In addition, the candidates available tend to be in their 40s and early 50s, so these replacements will not be the decades-long fix many dealers desire.

“With Baby Boomers beginning to retire, there’s not going to be a lot of people in the market to find,” Tucker says. “We think it’s going to be a tumultuous period of employment.”

Misura also says LBM executives are getting frustrated by talent searches because their definition of talent doesn’t match up with reality.

Executives who survived the downturn tend to be “highly adaptable, highly creative, innovative and effective at providing value in today’s market,” Misura says. But when they look for replacements, he says, “they’re finding individuals that are not adaptable, that are not re-creating themselves, and that are not innovative.”

Tucker believes generational gaps cause some of the disconnect. People being sought now to move in, move up, and take over a company in 10 to 15 years are from the Internet and social media generation, he says. For the people hiring them, these often are foreign concepts.

Adding to that is the unhappiness many of the prospective hires feel after having gone through wage freezes, benefit reductions, and increased workloads. Sometimes, those traumas could make them fed up with their current position and interested in seeking new opportunities. But for those same reasons, other prospects have been unwilling to take risks and pursue more lucrative opportunities.

“The top talents are afraid to expose themselves,” says Misura. “They’re not confident enough to vet the company doing the hiring.”

Misura adds another trend that matters more than ever: the likelihood that a candidate will stay put rather than seek a move because he or she has to consider the needs of children and a spouse—particularly a working spouse.

Still, Misura stresses that those who are willing to pursue new opportunities, embrace change, and encourage innovation are going to be considered the top-level talent moving forward.

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