BY CHARLIE KIMMEL
KIMMEL & ASSOCIATES
You think you’ve got problems now? Consider your construction workforce situation five years into the future. The great recession smacked the construction industry like a bat on a ball several years ago, but current projections show a slow but steady rebound. In a recent AGC survey, 80 percent of construction firms indicated they plan to increase their payroll this year.
Of the construction firms surveyed, 87 percent noted they are having a hard time filling key positions. With companies expected to continue to add laborers over the next 10 years, it’s going to get tight.
There have been major changes in the talent pool. Many seasoned workers who withstood prior industry layoffs have now aged out. These baby boomers have retired or are pursuing less demanding work. You would think that would leave Gen Xers to step up to the plate, but this demographic got pushed out due to the seniority of their co-workers. Millions were forced out of the industry during the 2007-2009 downturn and took their experience with them. They are now established in other careers. That leaves us with the youth of today, the millennials. This group, ages 34 and under, is particularly hard to reach. Time to step up your game plan.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE WORKERS IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY?
The recession created a perfect storm. Tight budgets meant that Washington decreased funding for vocational programs in secondary schools and community colleges. Emphasis in federal funding was placed on promoting college-preparatory programs. This fit in perfectly with advice from economists warning that the U.S. was migrating from manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy.
Since funding had been re-allocated to college-prep, teachers and counselors routed students in that direction. They ignored the fact that construction laborers are often paid better than entry-level college graduates. High school counselors showed pictures of haggard construction workers with captions that read “Get a Degree or This Could Be You!”
This led parents, seeking a better life for their children, to pack them off to college. Students began graduating and struggled to find their desired career job, while the construction industry suffered from the loss of this talent pool.
There are 80 million youth out there now. Forecasts show the construction industry adding 1.6 million new jobs over the next 10 years. In order to compete for future workers, successful companies will have to be career counselors and talent developers.
HOW TO RECRUIT CONSTRUCTION WORKERS FOR THE FUTURE
1. Attract Your Target Groups
Parents and career counselors definitely encourage kids to attend a four-year university to get a good job. But the truth is that not everyone wants to attend a university. Students need to hear that there are other options because not everyone is cut out for a demanding university curriculum. Reaching out to students who are getting ready to graduate high school will help you recruit construction workers. If they aren’t interested in pursuing that university education, point them toward a program at a community college, where they can gain job-ready skills in the construction industry.
Many youth who used to enter the labor market directly, now enroll in a community college to receive additional skills and training. Although somewhat limited, there are construction-related fields being taught. You will find students taking hands-on classes in welding, masonry, carpentry and similar studies. These students need to know you are ready for them.
Contact schools and let them know you are available for career days, job shadowing, and summer jobs. Consider providing paid internships as a way to introduce youth to various construction paths. Offer a year’s tuition as a scholarship to select students for future year-long contracts. This is an excellent way to recruit construction workers. You might also set up your own on-the-job/apprenticeship program or work with a community college to arrange industry-specific training for your company. You may even qualify as a registered apprenticeship program. Check it out!
2. Reach out to Vets
Veterans are a proven talent pool hitting the labor market in increasing numbers. Due to military downsizing, many service members, who planned to stay in for 20 years and retire, are being forced out. Three hundred thousand veterans are expected to flood the labor market over the next five years. We are beginning to see that increase now.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicates the highest unemployment rate in the country is among returning vets age 18-24. This is a prime demographic for the construction industry. Statistics show the top three states for returning vets are California, Texas and North Carolina. If you have projects in these areas, why don’t you recruit construction workers from the pool of available vets?
Look into the Hiring Our Heroes program for more information. Having trouble finding pipefitters? Check out Veterans In Piping for vets recently trained and certified in HVACR and welding. Or, consider forming your own apprenticeship program for veterans and get approved for funding through the GI bill. Veterans have gained valuable soft skills while in the military. Take advantage of this developing talent pool, especially if you’re a federal contractor.
3. Change Your Recruitment Strategies
Do you still find there is a shortage of entry-level applicants? Whether you are an employer or an executive recruiter, you can change your tactics to find more candidates for the construction industry.
Employee Referral Programs for Youth
Your employees know their jobs and are your best advocate to get youth interested. Set up a system where employees get a bonus for a youth referral and the youth gets some shadowing time on the jobsite. It’s a win-win situation.
Contact community colleges and offer jobsite tours to select classes. Show them around and let them see your company in action. Out of a class of 20 carpentry students, one or more is likely to have a spark of interest you could fan into a flame. Recruit construction workers from those touring groups.
Millennials are interested in technology, so let that be your dangling carrot. Change the way you represent the industry when you approach youth. Some will be attracted to eco-friendly green building. Others will want to know about your use of mobile communications, computers, cameras or lasers. Be sure to brag about your equipment and technology.
Youth are interested in websites and social networking. Place specific content to attract them to your company. You should have a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other sites. Encourage your employees to link and share with their friends.
Reach Out with Contests
Run online contests and give out t-shirts, hats, or perhaps a few copies of the SimCity game. Have company representatives attend college job fairs and pass out swag. Leave information in school counseling offices and offer assistance to area scout groups or other youth clubs. Ensure your company name is reaching your target groups.
4. Company Branding
Build your reputation. Millennials are label conscious. They want the best and most popular in everything from headphones to footwear—Beats to Nike! These brand-conscious youth aren’t any less aware of their employer of choice. Great branding will help you recruit construction workers.
Being an employer of choice will draw skilled labor and help keep applicants in the pipeline waiting for a chance to move up or come onboard. Employers with brand recognition and reputation will get first pick of available laborers.
Like it or not, you are competing with the big dogs. Millennials are more mobile than past generations. They will relocate to work for prestigious companies with better perks and benefits. Be sure you stay as competitive as you can. It will certainly help you recruit construction workers for the future.
5. Enhance and Promote Your Company Culture
Employees are attracted to companies that have a strong supportive culture, which includes the following characteristics.
• Individuals show respect for each other.
• Employees work as a team and have a sense of fellowship.
• Teams take pride in their work.
• The organization values fairness and equitable practices.
• Leaders personify trust and integrity.
These days, youth are interested in more than just medical and dental as company benefits. Young people are looking for jobs that come with perks and a more informal atmosphere. The construction industry is in a unique position to offer work that fits the bill for many millennials. No ties required!
Could you start a program where everyone on the team gets free movie tickets after 60 days without a lost-time accident? Could you do a staggered work schedule? Perhaps you could take a hint from Starbucks and pay tuition for employees who are motivated to get certifications or degrees. Think outside the box. Show employees you value them and do things to promote fellowship and fun in order to recruit construction workers and retain your new hires.
6. Successful Onboarding Strategies
Schools today encourage teamwork and collaboration. Millennials are accustomed to working in groups. Be sure new hires are onboarded in a supportive group environment and are assigned a mentor. This should help with your retention efforts. Millennials are interested in salary, but they want more than just money. Be sure to let them know that they’ll have an opportunity to do great things with your company.
Millennials also want to be “in the know.” Share information with them about your company’s goals and vision. Encourage their input. Let employees know there are various career paths within your company. Assuring applicants your company provides growth and opportunity is a valuable tool as you recruit construction workers.
GET READY FOR THE FIGHT
BLS statistics indicate steady growth in the construction industry [link to ] over the next decade. This equates to 1.6 million new jobs and doesn’t factor in additional openings left by retiring baby boomers. Competition for available labor will be fierce.
Now is the time to recruit construction workers for your future labor force. Follow these tips and you’ll have your pick of the top talent.
Kimmel & Associates is an executive search firm and has been working within the construction industry for more than 30 years. It serves hundreds of client companies and has successfully completed more than 10,000 placements during the past 15 years alone.