Construction company owners say one of the biggest challenges they face is hiring skilled labor. The past economy and current culture have conspired to thin the pool of useful workers. Many construction workers left the industry when it took a nosedive around 2008 and have not returned, causing a shortage of experienced labor. Further, the emphasis on college over trade jobs means current generations are not being encouraged to go into the construction field, which leaves a shortage of young workers even as older workers are aging out of their jobs.
As a result, not only is there a smaller labor pool, but applicants are able to be pickier. One construction manager said that applicants were interviewing him rather than the other way around.
Even so, it is possible to hire workers who bring not only skill and enthusiasm but long-term loyalty to your company. It takes a combination of being an attractive company to work for and knowing how to find and select the right people.
A company worth working for
Just like you have to compete for a contract, you may have to compete for your new hires. Therefore, make sure you give them reasons for choosing and staying with you. Do some research and find out the salary ranges in your area for the jobs you need to fill, then determine the best you can afford. Consider benefits as well. Asking your current employees what they value the most can help you decide what to promote and what you may want to consider adding.
Another big concern for people in the construction industry is layoffs. What do you do in the slow seasons or when the economy takes a downturn to keep people employed?
Also give thought to training and advancement. Some contractors worry that training an employee will make them more likely to leave, but workers who believe that a company will give them opportunities to advance in their trade are more likely to stay with that company.
When you have the basics figured out, be sure you have an attractive work environment. An emphasis on safety and quality work means your employees feel secure and proud about what they do. Next, consider your culture. The foundation of work culture is treating everyone with dignity, trust and respect, from the entry-level laborer to the customer himself. How do you express that? Are you a "hard work, hard play" kind of company where long hours are rewarded with bonuses and a party for being under contract, or a family-focused one where it's easy to get time off for family issues?
In your job application, dedicate a line to your company benefits and culture. It helps attract not only good workers, but also the right workers, the ones most likely to fit in with your other employees, which can decrease turnover.
The right person for the job – and your company
Next, you need to determine that right employee. You already know the job you need filled and the skills involved. Give some thought to the quality of the person you want. Recommendations by construction managers include looking for people who are safety-minded, reliable, physically fit, hardworking and have integrity.
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These seem obvious, so get into the details. For example, does hardworking mean willing to put in overtime on short notice? Also decide your standards. One construction manager said that, while he will not hire anyone with a history of violence, he is willing to give a chance to applicants who were arrested for drug use, if it happened years prior.
Finally, consider your culture. If you are a family-friendly company, the foul-mouthed guy whose idea of a good time is hitting the bar on Friday may not be the best fit. On the other hand, if you build commercial buildings and have a reputation for being ahead of schedule, that same guy, who works like a madman while on the job, may be the perfect fit.
When you write the job description, be sure to give enough specifics on the duties as well as the culture that you attract good candidates. Sometimes, this means only a few words. For example, an ad by Rocky Mountain Waterproofing for a crew member in West Jordan, Utah, says "hardworking, clean-cut individuals" in its second line.
Be sure those first 50 words, which are the ones that show up in online searches, tell the most important details of the job and candidate qualities. Then supply a link to your website with a more in-depth explanation. As you list qualities, be sure to give strong thought to what is mandatory and what is desired. Does your roofer really need five years of experience? Your accountant should have an accounting degree, but does your receptionist really need a bachelor’s in business?
Hiring tips and tricks
If you wait until you need a masonry worker, you not only risk putting your project on pause, but you may also narrow your pool of available workers. Experts say the best time to hire – if not year-round – is before the season hits. You may have to pay for a few extra weeks, but you have a larger base of available workers to choose from, have time to train and integrate them into your company's way of doing business, and have increased their loyalty by giving them a salary when others are still waiting to hire.
Go beyond the want ad
To find high-quality employees, you need to go beyond placing ads and talking to employment agencies. Consider these venues.
- Social media: If you have a following, posting that you are looking is a great way to spread the word, especially if you've devoted part of your page to your employees and company culture.
- Buddy system: Be sure to let everyone in your company know you are hiring, and consider offering a bonus to the employee who brings someone in. People in this industry know others, both those looking for employment and those who are looking to move to another company.
- Previous employees: If an employee left on good terms, call them to see if they want to return or know someone looking for a job.
- References: Applicant references aren't just good for checking out a potential employee. These people have hired, fired and laid off others in this field. Keep their contact information so that, when you have another opening, you can call and let them know. They may have a suggestion.
- Community events: Having a booth at job fairs, visiting local colleges and technical schools, and speaking at events on the construction trade makes you familiar to potential employee sources. Call them when you have an opening and leave your contact information at events so they can call you.
- The Army: People leave the armed forces after their enlistment with training and years of experience in a variety of fields that relate to construction. That missile maintenance specialist may be your next HVAC technician.
< strong >Grow your own
Working with schools and vocational services to provide internships and training can help your company in the long run. You can help develop a new generation of construction workers, many of whom you will know and can hire when they are ready.
Also, don't overlook your current employees. Just because someone is a roofer now does not mean they won't make a great masonry worker. Offer opportunities for movement within the company, including training and advancement to management.
Hire – and keep – the best
Finding an employee is only half the battle. If you can't retain them, then you will find yourself back in the same hiring routine again and again. Make yourself a company worth staying with. To do this, you need these key elements:
- Competitive pay
- Good benefits
- Training and advancement opportunities
- Safe work environment
- Defined company culture that has respect, dignity and trust as its foundation
Take the time to do your homework when evaluating an employee. Call the references. Run a background check. Use a people search to make sure your applicants were honest on their resumes. Learn how to ask the right questions in an interview. Find the employee you want to keep, not just the body you need right now.
After that, the key is having work to keep them gainfully employed year-round. This can be a challenge for companies in areas with four seasons, but expanding to renovation or handyman work can offer more opportunities.
Alternatively, provide incentives, such as hiring bonuses, for your best employees to return with the next construction season. Keep in touch with them, even sending a note or email to ask how they are doing and tell them about future projects.
Skilled, trustworthy labor is the backbone of any construction company. Your duty as an owner is to make your company a place where the best come or are made, and where they want to stay.
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