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Craig, We Need A Plant Manager - Can You Help Us?

The question came from the general manager of a $6 million healthcare linen plant in the Midwest. We had met several years ago and I knew he was up against tight budgets, old equipment, and a temperamental workforce.

This type of phone call highlights a growing critical issue in our industry. Plant manager, chief engineer, service manager, general manager - all these and more play key roles in the daily operation of a commercial laundry. Institutional OPLs and central laundries may have different job titles, but the roles are similar.

Salary Gridlock
"Well, Joe, what sort of salary range were you thinking about?"
"I would like to keep it around the mid to high 40s, Craig. I have been paying $48,000 and that's what I have budgeted for the position."

How do you know if $48,000 is a competitive salary? If the plant has $6 mm a year in revenues, look in the latest (1997) TRSA salary survey for a comparably sized plant. The average salary was $46,280 plus a ten percent bonus opportunity. Adjust for inflation and the average salary goes to about $50,000 plus bonus. Employers sometimes adjust their budget to provide a $50,000 salary for the right candidate, someone currently doing a respectable job in a similar size and mix plant.

Most candidates are not local. It is also possible that local candidates have agreed to a restrictive covenant with their current employer. If we got "lucky" and found a capable plant manager earning below industry average, say $45,000, a $50,000 offer would only raise their weekly salary about $75 after tax. Would that justify moving their family to a different city? What if their current employer counter offers with $50,000? Would they make a lateral move in terms of compensation? Would you? Complicating this dilemma is the shortage of internal candidates being developed for management careers in our industry. But there are two fixes to this recruiting challenge.

The Short Term Fix
Suppose we are still looking for a $6 million healthcare plant manager and we want to keep the salary structure in place. Here are some options:

  1. Gamble on the candidate from a smaller laundry operation. Maybe a 5 million pound hospital OPL laundry manager can make the transition to a larger commercial healthcare plant. 
  2. Find a second shift manger from a two-shift plant. It is possible they can handle plant manager responsibilities if they have experience with production reports, establishing standards, etc. 
  3. Do you have an internal manager from another department (service, engineering, etc.) that could get through a hands-on "crash course" in production? Would you cripple the department that you pull them from?

Production skills are secondary to leadership skills. The ideal scenario would be if the general manager "came up through production" and could develop production skills in the new manager without taking over the production department. Or perhaps a retired plant manager in your area could help with training. What you need is to provide the domain knowledge for your "plant manager in training".

The Long Term Fix
Can our industry attract good talent as entry-level production supervisors, route managers and engineers (mechanics) in the $25 to $30,000 range?

You probably have heard some of these comments the past few years:

  • "Young people just don't want to be in our industry like they used to. Soil sort, long hours, stress, they can make better money easier in other lines of work."
  • "No one is training people any more - there isn't any new blood coming up through the ranks."
  • " We don't have strong supervisors (i.e. motivated, bright, good people skills) to develop quickly as plant manager."

It sounds like managers don't look for high quality candidates that they can "sell" our industry to. We are our own worst enemy by not believing that we can attract good bright talents. Maybe we can't compete with many of today's industries, but we are not looking for the "prima donna". Our candidate may or may not be college educated, but they are someone who can roll up their sleeves and put in a decent day's work.

So where are they? Many are training in fast food restaurants, car rental agencies, pest control / lawn service branches, or even other production departments. Don't forget the candidates coming out of the military, especially the 20-year "retiring veteran" who still has over twenty years of career life left. The Long Term Fix does not immediately fill the plant manager position in the Midwest - but it can infuse some enthusiastic talent into your facility. Talent that you can build on year after year.

Next Month - "Attracting quality employees to the laundry.

Craig Lloyd represents LaundryCareers.com, a management search firm specializing in the industrial / institutional laundry industry.  He holds a degree in Industrial Relations from Rider University and has been a Certified Personnel Consultant since 1979.

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