It’s sometimes hard to make a name for yourself when your father is well-known in an industry. In fact, Nick DeKryger acknowledges that a nickname he commonly hears is “Malcolm’s son.” Malcolm DeKryger is President and CEO of Belstra Milling in DeMotte, Ind.; Nick, as VP of Business and Finance, isn’t standing on his dad’s laurels.
This smart and savvy young businessman not only understands finances, but also how important it is to engage with employees and plan for the future. He’s bringing new energy to the company and forging a path to maintain profitability over the long haul.
Belstra Milling’s core values have been the foundation of the company since it was established in 1954 by Bud Belstra. The road ahead will have challenges, though, and one of the most concerning issues - for Belstra Milling and all producers – is finding and retaining quality employees. (Click the image below to learn more about Belstra Milling.)
Labor is No. 1 Challenge
With 180 employees, the labor pool fluctuates, DeKryger says.
“Between turnover, labor cost and safety – there are a lot of things we work on every single day,” he says. “Northwest Indiana has a low unemployment rate, which makes the demand for labor very tough. There’s a lot of competition and people will easily jump ship to go work for more money, even though it’s fewer hours.”
DeMotte, Ind. is about 35 miles south of Gary, Ind. and about 70 miles southeast of Chicago, so Belstra competes with unions that can pay $30 to $40/hour. Towns of all sizes are looking for employees.
“We are a drug-free company, and in an area where it’s tough to find employees, it’s even tougher to find employees who can pass a drug screen,” DeKryger says. “It’s an unfortunate problem and it’s definitely becoming a factor.”
As unemployment goes down, ultimately that leads to the “unemployable” rate going up, he adds, which means it’s even more difficult to find employees with the attitude, skills and abilities needed. In addition, the generation they’re hiring from is younger and their needs are different.
“We’re trying to adapt and understand, and we’re trying to make sure our company is changing to meet the needs of younger employees so they’ll stick around,” DeKryger says.
“It is much easier — and less expensive — to keep an employee happy after they're hired than it is to replace them,” says Klyn Elsbury, CEO and Founder of Landmark Makers, in an article she wrote for Forbes.com. “Perhaps not surprisingly, the top reasons for their unhappiness include lack of personal growth, lack of challenge, or inability to have added responsibilities (upward growth).”
“People want flexibility,” DeKryger says. “They don’t want to be locked into definite start and end times. They want comfort and they want access to the outside world and social media.
“Ultimately, if you ask the people inside the barn what motivates them, it’s not money – it’s the environment they work in; it’s whether or not they like the work they do, and the people they work with,” he says. “These factors will motivate them to go a good job.”
Added labor costs
Labor costs and insurance costs are going up, too. Belstra Milling is a self-insured company so their constantly looking for ways to keep costs down without hurting the business.
“Workmen’s comp is expensive,” DeKryger says. “The employees we hire aren’t coming from an ag background, where common sense is a given. I hate to say that but some of the accidents and injuries that happen are hard to believe.”
Little things that workers might have brushed off in the past – like cuts, scrapes, bruises, or minor back problems – are now issues, he says. It’s costly, not just from the insurance and workmen’s comp standpoint, but also because a worker’s position must be covered during the days, weeks or months that worker is laid up.
“We spend a lot of time on safety,” DeKryger says. “We’re doing a lot of training and programs that help them understand how to work safely. Safety is never a fun issue to talk about but it’s very important as we try to work on our labor.”
Labor challenges are in a class by themselves, as DeKryger jokingly says, “Another big challenge is – did I mention labor? Labor is tough.”
Editor’s Note: While labor is obviously a big issue, in another article tomorrow, Nick DeKryger will talk about four additional challenges that Belstra Milling – and all producers – are facing.