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You Told Me How You Rose from the Bottom. If You Need Workers, Share That Story With the World

It was just a random idea when I saw scores of people raise their hand at a recent LBM event when asked if they had started their careers on a bottom rung and now were near the top. I asked my LinkedIn contacts to tell their stories, and boy did you respond.

Dozens replied with their rags-to-riches stories, and I have collected 34 of them here. Chris Thurman started as a load builder in 1989 and now is director of operations for BMC’s Atlanta market, overseeing 400 people. Palmer-Donavin recruited Josh Thompson to do customer service work, and 8-1/2 years later he’s VP of marketing. Cory Jameson was a college student looking to earn beer money when he started in a lumberyard in the 1980s. He was paid $4.10 an hour then. Now he’s CEO of Guy C. Lee Building Materials. I also learned about an Egyptian immigrants who runs a door-hanging facility, a warehouse worker who became CEO of Parksite, several other laborer-to-president stories, and a part-time worker who ultimately bought and sold two lumberyards.

While their stories are diverse, they tend to deliver the same message. As Jameson put it, “You can be successful in this industry and make a great living for your family while loving what you do without a college degree or a ton of experience when given the opportunity.”

There’s no end to debate among economists over whether we’re experiencing a slowdown in the national rate of upward socioeconomic mobility. Money figures into that equation, of course, but so do people’s perceptions of what constitutes a “good job.” And for too long, most LBM work has been viewed by outsiders as nothing but dirty, brainless, weather-sapping manual labor with zero long-term prospects. Stereotypes grow like that when nobody sees you, because you’re working by the railroad tracks in a dusty, industrial part of town.

You know better. If you want new people to come work for you, you need to tell your stories.

Few industries offer as many opportunities for a person to join at the bottom and finish at the top without having to go to college. Few outsiders are aware that the general manager of a facility can easily earn a six-figure income. And that pickup truck you drive? Its price tag rivals a lawyer’s BMW.

Running a construction supply operation is complicated work that takes years to master and then more years of education to keep up with changes. But it’s not rocket science; with motivation, most people can learn, develop, and prosper. That’s a prospect attractive enough to lure lots of decent applicants—provided they become aware that the job is available.

A good story combined with memorable data makes for a powerful combination. So get out there and tell people about their opportunities in construction supply. Explain how common it is for people to go from raw newcomer to the C-suite. And don’t forget to mention how much those executives earn.

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