As baby boomers continue to retire, construction firms find it increasingly difficult to retain qualified workers.
That said, certain demographic trends are giving construction companies a glimmer of hope that the tide may be turning—albeit slowly. Whereas millennials generally looked down on blue-collar employment in favor of pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees, Generation Z appears to be taking a different tact. For some in this demographic (defined as young adults born between 1995 and 2010), the benefits of long-term employment, financial success and entrepreneurial opportunities in fields like construction seem appealing—especially when compared to the prospect of low-paying jobs outside of their chosen field, not to mention five- or six-digit student debt.
It’s still too early to tell whether this represents a significant paradigm shift; but industry professionals are carefully tracking it. What cannot be disputed, however, is the need for construction companies to be proactive in their efforts to recruit and retain workers of all ages. Times may (or may not) be changing; but construction workers remain in short supply. Whether you like it or not, you’re engaged in a “war on talent,” and this is a battle you must win. What are some ways to do that?
- Acknowledge that the worker shortage is reality, and make recruitment a key priority. Owners and managers at construction companies have a lot on their plates. All too often, they focus on short-term issues and daily demands. Consequently, long-term challenges like recruitment can take a backseat. Even if they don’t currently face employee shortages, companies must make recruitment a strategic business priority. That can take many forms – from active participation in job fairs and building relationships with union and non-union trade schools, to frequent use of job boards, job sites and more – but the effort must be proactive, not reactive.
If your construction company has human resources professionals on staff (or employees tasked primarily with HR duties), have them establish measurable programs and targets, and make it a point to keep yourself updated on progress over time. If your company doesn’t have in-house HR capabilities, align yourself with a capable and experienced provider of these services. They’ll have the capabilities, external relationships and bandwidth to set your company up for success in this hyper-competitive talent landscape.
- Establish and maintain top-notch onboarding practices. Strategies and tactics for attracting and training Gen Z’ers and others in the construction trade are well-known—from partnering with vocational and high schools and apprenticeships to offering high starting salaries, incentives and even bonuses to new workers. Yet recruiting and hiring new workers is only part of the equation. A construction company’s ability to properly onboard its new employees is key to retaining them over time and avoiding many of the problems associated with today’s war on talent.
- Augment outside training with additional in-house training programs and initiatives as needed. You can do a great job onboarding your new employees. But there may be situations in which additional training is needed to fully integrate your new employees into their daily roles, as well as the company in general. Hard-skills training, for example, could include training on specific construction equipment, or safety data sheet (SDS) training to help selected personnel determine reaction relations between chemicals. We also recommend soft-skills training for supervisors that includes a focus on basic leadership performance and Emotional Intelligence (EI).
- Establish and nurture an environment of true employee engagement. Again, the war on talent is real. It’s paramount that company leaders – from owners and executives on down through management and colleagues – treat employees like the valued assets they are. That means integrating engagement best practices throughout your organization. People have options today; if engagement doesn’t occur, if employees aren’t treated fairly and with respect, and if workforce culture doesn’t measure up, then those assets will seek opportunities elsewhere.