Andy Papathanassiou addresses the World Millwork Alliance attendees in Charlotte, N.C.

The World Millwork Alliance (WMA) officially opened its its 53rd annual convention and trade show in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday with a keynote address that emphasized the importance of thinking like an athlete to boost your business and improve your team.

Andy Papathanassiou, a NASCAR executive who helped revolutionize how pit crews operate, said athletic thinking is about problem-solving, and its key parts are practice, coaching and setting higher goals.

“A pit crew is like any high-performance team or business unit,” he said. “You need the right perspective, dedicated players and a good system. Most spectators don’t realize the coordination and timing required of the pit crew. There are potentially, hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line when a NASCAR Sprint Cup car pulls into the pits. Our six-person crew is expected to change four seventy-five pound tires and fill the car with eighteen gallons of gas, in thirteen seconds. At the same time, there are forty-two teams out there that are trying to do it better than us.”

Next, WMA presented its Ron Taylor Awards of Integrity and Commitment to Brian McIlwee and George Kessel Jr. Kessel was honored posthumously.

“The 2017 award recipients represent the very best of our association and industry,” said Rosalie Leone, WMA’s chief executive officer.

Finally, WMA unveiled its new executive committee for 2017-2018. Mac Mayberry of ECMD was elected president. Dennis Berry of The Empire Company is first vice president, Tim Hicks of Clay Ingels is second vice president, and JB Dimick of Cascade Wood Products is associate vice president. Jeff Williams of OrePac Building Products is treasurer and Tim Lyons of Brockway-Smith is immediate past president. Leone remains secretary and and CEO

The retiring executive committee members are Dave Ondrasek of BMC (immediate past president) and Doug Gartner of Steves & Sons (associate vice president).

After the opening general session wrapped up, attendees and exhibitors moved from the Westin Charlotte hotel to the convention center across the street for the accompanying trade show. Stay tuned to DWM for more coverage later this week on the products that were exhibited at the show.

While the the organization officially opened its 53rd convention and trade show on Monday, festivities actually kicked off on Sunday with a full day of educational sessions for industry professionals. The topics spanned millennials in the workplace, an overview of the forces that will shape the global economy for the next decade and beyond, and a look at the importance of product certification, specifically as it relates to the WMA 100 standard, “Standard Method of Determining Structural Performance Ratings of Side-Hinged Exterior Door Systems (SHEDS) and Procedures for Component Substitution.”

Millennials on the March

Things got off to a lively start with a session on a topic of importance to a many segments of the construction business — millennials. Diane Thielfoldt of The Learning Cafe hosted a panel discussion “Unraveling the Millennial Mystery,” that featured four younger members of the millwork industry.

According to Thielfoldt, the rapid rise of the millennials is creating what she calls a “quad-generation workforce” in which four age groups will be working together closely. One, the silent generation, features much older workers who were born between the 1920s and the 1940s. Their numbers are dwindling. The other three — baby boomers, Generation X and millennials — will be competing against each other in the workplace for the foreseeable future.

The nation’s 78 million baby boomers are starting to retire at a rapid pace, Thielfoldt said. Generation X, those born between 1964 and 1980, are half the size of the baby boomers. Meanwhile, there are about 80 million millennials who are rapidly moving into the workforce. 

Millennials currently make up slightly more than a third of the U.S. workforce. By 2020, they’ll be 50 percent; by 2025, they’ll be 75 percent.

“They are the largest and most influential generation of adults in our history,” said Thielfoldt.

They also differ from earlier age groups in many ways. For example, they’ve grown up around more technology than any generation, and they’ve been raised by deeply engaged and involved parents (“helicopter moms”). They communicate differently from other age cohorts, such as through social media and digital devices.

Millennials also don’t follow the career path of earlier generations, who often worked in one industry — or even one company — for their entire careers.

“Millennials tend to view careers as a jungle gym,” said. “They can swing from one job to another. Millennials are experience-hoppers, not job-hoppers. They’re looking for employability, not necessarily employment.”

Career development is important, too. The No. 1 perk millennials seek is the opportunity to learn, grow and develop, so it’s important for millwork companies talk about the educational opportunities, Thielfoldt said.

According to Thielfoldt, 95 percent of millennials say work-life balance is important, and 59 percent say their generation has a different attitude toward workplace responsibility. Additionally, a Gallup poll shows that 60 percent of millennials are open to different job opportunities.

“A good work-life balance is important,” said millennial panelist Brad Carter of Woodware Systems, a maker of software for the millwork industry. “I also like variety. i want to be a jack of all trades.”

A persistent stereotype about millennials is that they have been coddled and praised their entire lives, so they can’t handle criticism. However, the truth is that they value feedback and want a lot of it — and not just empty praise and “participation trophies.”

“We are the feedback generation, but i think the misconception is not a matter of needing my ego built up,” said Kelsie Coltrane of Endura Products. “I need feedback to know that I’m meeting expectations. Tell me to jump and I’ll ask ‘how high,’ vs. you putting me on an elevator and saying ‘ooh, look how high you’re going.”

When an organization fosters an inclusive culture that values individualism, collaboration and teamwork, 83 percent of millennials say they’d stay.

Millennials are also rapidly moving into the upper ranks; 38 percent of millennials are currently in a formal leadership role, and 20 percent of midlevel corporate employees now report to a boss who is younger than them. However, that fast rise is causing conflict in many workplaces, because only five percent of millennial managers are perceived as being ready to lead, according to Thielfoldt.

When it comes to attracting millennials to the industry, most panelists agreed that there single way in. Often, younger workers arrive in the millwork much like other generations have.

“The millennials we’ve hired have either been someone’s son from our company,” said Will Hicks of Clay Ingles. “Others have come from knowing people.”

Another millennial panelist said it’s important for companies to focus on innovation, inclusion and opportunity.

“The majority of people we’ve brought on have come from retail,” said  Robert Wilkins of ECMD.

The industry could also use better PR, said another panelist.

“We need to advertise that we have higher pay than fast-food jobs,” said Coltrane. “We get stuck in the idea that it’s manual labor and that’s it.”

A speaker from the audience said the blame for that falls on older generations.

“Education is lacking for trades,” said Nick Carter of Woodware (father of panelist Brad). “We’re pushing everybody to go to college. I hear from all of our customers are running out of craftsmen. The blame falls on the generation before. We didn’t create an environment that said those are very valuable jobs.”

The WMA convention and trade show continues this week. Stay tuned to DWM for updates.

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