Help Wanted

by Autumn McGarr

Good help is hard to find, and if you ask kitchen and bath dealers, it’s getting harder all the time. Indeed, nearly three quarters of dealers say finding competent help is more difficult than it was a year ago, and that number increases even further when it comes to finding good subcontractors.

That’s according to a new Kitchen & Bath Design News survey that polled more than 100 dealers about the impact of the labor shortage, as well as where they look to find new hires and what skills are most in demand.

With a strong economy, business continues to grow, evidenced by the fact that a whopping 87.1 percent of dealers surveyed say they have recently added or are planning to add staff in 2020 (see Graph 1).

Unfortunately, finding those new employees continues to present challenges. When asked to rate the difficulty of finding good help compared to just one year ago, 45.6% of those polled said it was “much harder,” while another 27.2% said it was “somewhat harder” and 25% rated it as “about the same.” Only 1.1% thought it was either “somewhat easier” or “much easier” (see Graph 2).

Neither are subcontractors likely to provide a suitable alternative option, as finding good subs appears to be about as rare as the proverbial unicorn, with 88% of those surveyed rating this as “extremely difficult” or “somewhat difficult.” Fewer than 10% believed finding good subcontractors to be “not very difficult” and only 2.1% rated this as “very easy” (see Graph 3).

At the same time, the majority of those polled (60.4%) say they are relying on subcontractors more than in the past, even if it means jobs take longer to complete (see Graph 4).


With the labor shortage making good help increasingly hard to find, dealers are being forced to look outside of the traditional channels to find new employees, calling on friends, colleagues, family members and even clients to ferret out the next generation of talent. In fact, referrals were the number one source for new employees, according to those polled, with 87.2% of respondents saying they rely on referrals when seeking to hire new staff (see Graph 5).

The second most commonly mentioned source for new talent was other industry companies, with 41.5% of those polled citing this as a source for new employees, while 35.1% look to design schools, trade schools and NKBA student chapters to find new talent.

At the same time, more than a quarter (26.6%) say they hire from unrelated fields and train accordingly, while 17% use interns as a source for future help.

Both word of mouth and advertising come into play when seeking new staff, with the majority (51.6%) using both, while 30.8% rely on word of mouth alone and only 17.6% rely strictly on advertising (see Graph 6).

When they do run ads, kitchen and bath dealers are more likely to rely on major job sites like, or Craigslist (68.1%) than on local newspapers or websites (31.9%), industry publications (20.2%), association websites (12.8%) or industry recruiters (12.8%), the survey showed (see Graph 7).

As far as the skills most in demand, installation, construction and trade help topped the list, with some 83% of dealers polled citing these as much needed skills. Sales skills are also highly sought after, with 38.3% of respondents saying they’re seeking sales skills, while 27.7% mentioned design, 10.6% mentioned admin and CAD skills, respectively, and 8.5% want to add staff with social media/marketing skills
(see Graph 8).

But it’s not just skills that dealers are looking for. In fact, when asked what was the most important quality they sought, answers ranged from “someone who will show up on time” to “integrity, honesty and experience” to “the ability to learn and adjust quickly to change.”

Many of those polled seem to value work ethic over experience, though “great craftsmanship and people skills” also scored high among those polled.

Among the other traits highly desired by kitchen and bath professionals hiring new help were the following:

  • Professionalism and problem-solving abilities
  • Drive and a willingness to work
  • Experienced people who can take the lead on a project from start to finish
  • Personality, accountability and attitude
  • Being trainable
  • Loyalty
  • Knowledge and the ability to learn new skills
  • Someone with a passion for the industry
  • Good past employment history and a willingness to work extra hours
  • Flexibility and good communication skills
  • A true customer service orientation
  • A basic knowledge of cabinets – we can train them from there
  • Experience and skills in CAD and Revit
  • Attention to detail


Even while dealers and designers seek new ways to procure quality help to keep up with the growing demand, the vast majority admit that the labor shortage is impacting their business, both financially and from a time and worry standpoint. Of those polled, 55.3% say projects are taking more time, and the same percentage say they are working more hours and handling more tasks themselves, often at the cost of their personal lives.

Nearly half (48.9%) say the challenges finding skilled help have raised the price of their jobs, and 41.5% say they are taking on fewer projects due to difficulty finding subcontractors (see Graph 9). Some 40.4% are paying more to hire/retain staff, as well.

Interestingly, only 11.7% say they are relying more on technology to fill the holes, while a mere 4.3% do not feel the labor shortage is impacting their business at all.

Of course, while finding quality help continues to create a strain on many businesses, others are seeking creative solutions to the problem. As one survey respondent notes, “We are hiring people who have retired from long-time jobs that want to learn a new skill set and want to work. These people come in and are interested in working with their hands and are not focused on being the boss at age 20-something.”

Another explains, “We are cross training our current staff to handle more skills. All of our painters can install drywall and do plaster repairs, and some of them and our carpenters can install tile.”

One dealer suggests utilizing less skilled personnel as “an extra pair of hands to free up our trained personnel for other projects where their expertise is critical.”

Several dealers have established unofficial partnerships or collaborations, where everyone shares subs and helps each other out as needed. In some cases, this can even lead to bringing subs in house full time.

Sadly, in some cases, downsizing was the only option.

But many remain hopeful for the future, with one dealer noting, “Some programs have started up to train young people just out of high school to work in the trades, which we are very hopeful will be successful. College isn’t for everyone – it’s expensive, time consuming and often not career-specific – and young people have been told for too long that they need a college degree to make a good living. But installers, plumbers, electricians, etc. are respected, lucrative professions. There needs to be programs in high schools to train young people in design and construction trades, with intern and/or apprentice programs to help them get experience.”

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