Bringing Skilled Workers Back to the Construction Industry

August 2017
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The construction industry is facing a big problem. Residential construction is growing steadily and the new-home market remains in a long-term recovery. Unfortunately, many builders can’t keep up with the high demand for new homes because of a shortage of skilled labor.

"The labor shortage is getting worse as demand is getting stronger," said John Courson, chief executive of the Home Builders Institute.

The Department of Labor reports the ratio of construction job openings to hiring is at its highest level since 2007.

Construction firms are finding it difficult to replace skilled workers who are leaving the workplace. The median age of construction industry workers is 42.8, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with young workers under 34 accounting for less than one third of the total workforce.

Why isn’t the construction industry appealing to young people?

Time for a PR Overhaul

It’s clear that the skilled trades are suffering from a poor reputation. Perhaps it’s time to strip the trades down to their bones and rebuild them with some targeted campaigns. A total PR overhaul.

Mike Rowe, former host “Dirty Jobs” and CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, had some advice for a Congressional panel discussing skilled trades and technical education.

“You’ve got to make work cool again.”

There is a perception among the younger, millennial workforce that white-collar jobs are more respectable than blue-collar jobs. There is a cultural perception among young people that skilled labor jobs are “dirty work” and that the way to success is to earn a college degree and pursue a traditional profession. As schools have phased out vocational programs and encourage students to focus on four-year college degrees, they’re reducing student exposure to skilled labor trades.

"Vocational education is still missing from an overwhelming majority of high schools," said Mike Rowe. He insists that the skills gap will never close "if we keep telling people a four-year degree is their only hope of being successful."

Rowe thinks that a nationwide public relations facelift can change the image of skilled trades work and make it aspirational.

Bring On An Apprentice

Mentorships and apprenticeships are some of the most important drivers of professional interest in the skilled trades and construction industry. If your construction business can start a mentor/ apprentice program, you’re actually helping to solve two problems. Not only are you doing your part to address the shortage of skilled trades in the industry, you’re also putting more workboots on the ground for your own construction business at the same time.

Inspire Entrepreneurs

Do you know what inspires most millennials to chose a profession? One word: entrepreneurship. This generation prizes entrepreneurship and the benefits of being a business owner, such as flexible hours and autonomy. Builders can attract new blood into the construction industry if they can find a way to connect with these would-be entrepreneurs and show the value of building a business in the construction industry, rather than building another smartphone app or becoming the next big ride-share program.

Use a Recruiter

Sometimes the easiest way to get more workers for your construction company is to let someone else do the heavy lifting for you. Recruiters and construction staffing firms can spend the time advertising, interviewing, and placing workers for you - leaving you with more time to oversee the project itself (or to train your new apprentice).

Invest in the Workers You Have

The best way to keep a steady flow of experienced tradesmen and women in your company is to invest in the employees you already have. Don’t lose the workforce you’ve already put in place; create a retention program that will incentivize employees to stay with you in the long-haul.

Think beyond bonuses when it comes to incentives that will really motivate your employees. Collin Hanks of Hanks Construction, LLC uses a non-traditional work day to incentivize his crew. “I give my crews benchmarks to work towards instead of them punching the clock and working from 7am to 5pm regardless of what they get done,” Hanks told Fast Company. “The benchmarks let them know that if they work hard and get stuff done faster, they can go home early and are still paid as if they worked till 5pm.”

Another way to invest in your employees is to offer training and schooling that will prepare them for internal promotions within your company. As your skilled trade employees age and gain experience, they may often have a desire to move off the job site and into the firm’s office, taking over managerial and leadership roles. Prepare them to successfully take those roles over, and they’ll be much more motivated to stay with you for the long-term.

Create a Referral Program

Documented referral programs can be very effective. According to an iCIMS report, The Impact of Successful Employee Referral Programs:

  • The majority of employers find that referred employees outperform other employees in most aspects of company fit.
  • Overall, referred employees are more satisfied at their current job compared to a previous, unreferred one.
  • Referred employees tend to refer others.

To get the most out of your referral program, be sure to proactively encourage employee referrals, create an internal referral process that is quick and simple for employees, and be sure to communicate with the referral in a timely manner.

Partner with Local Colleges and Trade Schools

Reach out to local trade schools or colleges with trades programs and inquire about a partnership. Give students a chance to learn about and grow with your company and the opportunity to be mentored. Create a pathway for current students to learn industry skills and have a fast-tracked career path ahead of them.

The lack of skilled labor is already having an impact on the construction industry which, in turn, impacts the housing industry and the US economy. Turning the ship around will take time and effort on everyone’s part: from individual workers that are willing to mentor apprentices to companies who are willing to create programs and partnerships to expose more young people to the skilled trades, and even the help of government in assisting with a major PR overhaul for the industry.


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