Five Ways to Keep Your Operation Staffed in a Tight Job Market

Steven Gillenwater

Today’s tight job market, while good news for jobseekers, is hitting the recycled pallet industry hard. Here's how 48forty is staying competitive in recruiting and retaining good people in our plant operations.


It’s hard to believe, but just a few years ago, between November 2011 and November 2012, America’s jobless rate was 13 percent. Not surprising that many people dropped out of the workforce as a result.

Fast-forward and today’s national unemployment rate is just four percent, a drop of nine points! That’s good news for jobseekers, not so good for employers that want to take advantage of a strengthening economy.

The tight job market is hitting the recycled pallet industry hard. Our production positions are not easy jobs to fill; pallet recycling is physically challenging labor. The work is nonstop and depending on the plant location and season, working conditions can be extreme. And while 48forty gives all applicants a chance, we don’t hire just anyone. Each candidate is fully vetted and screened.

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Further complicating matters, construction firms and manufacturing plants are also ramping up their hiring. The lure of an additional 50 cents per hour higher is often enough to lure people away to greener pastures.


So how can the recycled pallet industry be competitive in recruiting and retaining good people in our plant operations? Here are things 48forty is doing to keep our operations staffed:

Communicate opportunity.

Let people know that this isn’t just an hourly job; it’s a career with opportunities to advance. For many, a manual labor job is just a job. Jumping around is what you do. When an individual is hired at 48forty, we make it clear this isn’t a transactional job – there’s a path forward to a better position.

Case in point: an individual named Fabian Pino started in our saw shop. He showed initiative and when opportunities came to advance, he did. Today he’s a general manager for us in Phoenix. The person we hire today as an hourly employee could be the manager of tomorrow. With plant locations in 32 states and five Canadian provinces, the opportunity to advance is real.

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Provide mentorship.

Partner new employees with mentors who teach them the skills and confidence to do their job well. Starting a new job is never easy, regardless of the field. For those who’ve never built anything with their hands, never run a saw or operated a nail gun, our plants can be intimidating. So we pair the new people up with employees with tenure who show them the ropes. Our plant managers also do their part to help new people adjust. It’s a skill and confidence builder that gets people integrated into the team more quickly.

Offer Quality Benefits.

Reward people equally with benefits and vacation time. What do “real” jobs offer? You guess it – benefits. Our plant people get the same benefits as our managers and leadership team, specifically health insurance, 401(k) and paid vacation. Our benefits program is 35-40 percent richer than other pallet companies, but we believe it’s the right thing to do. Plus, it’s harder to walk away from a job with benefits.

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Be reliable.

Be true to our employees. When people join 48forty, we let them know they have a steady job, they will be paid on time, and they will be paid accurately for the work they complete. This isn’t always the case with some companies and people know it.

Implement a referral program.

Incentivize employees to refer friends and family to 48forty. One of our best referral sources are current employees. We established a formal referral program that gives the referring person a cash reward when the person they refer is hired and stays on the job a set period of time.

The culture we’re building at 48forty is to demonstrate to our people — in words and actions — that we want them to stay, grow and succeed. Our people are the heart of 48forty; they’re the reason we’re the largest recycled pallet company in North America. Each person plays an important role in keeping 90 million pallets moving through the supply chain each year. Recognizing this, we’re keeping our operations staffed thanks to the tips I’ve just listed. They can work for you, too.


Steven Gillenwater

Steve is Vice President, Human Resources at 48forty Solutions. He has been a human resources professional for over 20 years. Steve holds a Master’s Degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Science Degree in communications from Western Michigan University where he was a scholarship athlete.