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Attracting and Growing Talent: What Contractors Need to Know


Across many industries in the U.S., there is a decline in educated, skilled and experienced personnel as the largest generation in history moves out of the workforce and into retirement. As a result, it’s become a war for talent, and construction companies are on the front line.

This comes at a critically important time for the construction industry as the current volume of work already exceeds the human capital resource capacity. Furthermore, between natural disasters, a growing economy and a crumbling infrastructure, the demand for increasing the industry’s production capacity is at an all-time high.

In any industry, knowledge coupled with talent is the pathway to advancing a career. Now more than ever, offering a robust employee development program is key to attracting the right people for the right careers. Recruiting the best candidates is a good start. But if you don’t train or educate those top talents, it could have a disastrous impact on project delivery. Don’t let this become the type of employee who represents your company and destroys your brand on a daily basis. To put it bluntly, investing in your employees through education and training is an opportunity for success that today’s contractor simply cannot afford to ignore.

Companies are all desperate for candidates who have at least five to 10 years of construction experience to fill the gap created by the increasing number of workers in their 50s and 60s who are retiring from the industry. As a result, the construction job deficit is expected to increase to two million unfilled positions by 2022. This means those experienced candidates everyone is so desperate to hire do not exist, and construction firms will not be able to sustain their current capacity much less realize their strategic growth goals.

To help solve this problem, construction companies must embrace the emerging Z Generation (recent high school graduates) as well as the tail end of the Millennial generation (those just graduating college). The huge benefit? Investing in their training and education to help them in their career goals and become contributors to success will be the key to helping a contractor achieve his strategic goal. A young professional who has the right attitude every day, is ambitious, has the aptitude to learn and develop skills, and is a hard worker will find a career with great wages, benefits, and many opportunities for success. As the workforce deficit increases, companies are offering more attractive benefits and perks that help define their company culture to attract young candidates.

Owners of construction firms have discovered that workers can develop skills that are transferrable and highly valued throughout the U.S. and all over the world. This is advantageous because every project is unique, locations vary, and project teams change. Moreover, construction appeals to those who take pride in being a part of a successful team accomplishing something tangible every day in a variety of interesting environments.

When exploring the various career paths in this field, you should encourage prospective employees to weigh the options based on their level of interest as well as earning potential. In terms of earning potential, the top trades are plumbing, electrical and HVAC, all of which have state-level licensure requirements. Meanwhile, the most popular trade is carpentry.

In these licensed trades, the career path starts at apprentice, progresses to licensed journeyman (who can have one apprentice working under him or her) and culminates with a master’s license. Like the bar exam for lawyers or the medical boards for doctors, a journeyman needs that master’s license to realize his/her full income potential in the trade. With a master’s license, the tradesman or tradeswoman has the ability to start his or her own business in their respective trade.

Additionally, to further help workers choose the right trade, the Core Curriculum which is a requirement in National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) apprenticeship programs serves as an introduction to the trades providing some universal education and skills components as well as some exposure to all of the apprenticed trades.

To recruit top talent, Shapiro & Duncan is heightening awareness among prospective employees that jobs are in high demand, the skills learned are transferable, and that the company supports education and career development.

As many contractors are aware, apprenticeships are like obtaining a four-year degree without the cost. The tradeoff is working full-time while going to school either a couple of evenings a week or one to two days a month, depending upon the program and employer. For many employees that know about this type of opportunity, this is an appealing blend of classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

Your prospective and current employees need to be educated on the fact that they can have mobility within the construction field – that it’s not a dead-end career. In reality, there is always opportunity to evolve and there is substantial room for growth in the field, no matter where your employee starts.

At Shapiro & Duncan, field leadership team members are encouraged to push their teams to engage in education and training to ensure that they continually grow in their personal capabilities and contribution to the team effort. Also, the company’s monthly employee newsletter provides information of all education and training opportunities.

Both union shops and merit shops provide training programs for construction workers. A requirement of apprenticeship is that the employer be the sponsor and pay the employee tuition. The most popular national training program is the one provided by the NCCER, which is affiliated with the University of Florida. Curricula include more than 70 craft areas and a complete series of more than 70 assessments offered in over 4,000 NCCER-accredited training and assessment locations across the United States. NCCER’s apprenticeship training modules are used in both high schools and technical schools.

Shapiro & Duncan is a firm believer in the value of internship and apprenticeship programs.

Its summer internship rotation program is geared toward young people who are majoring in construction management or mechanical engineering. However, office internships including marketing, accounting, IT and human resources are also available. First year summer interns spend a week or more in several different departments, including preconstruction, engineering, fabrication, production and project management receiving a well-rounded exposure to the industry. Returning summer interns will be placed in a more consistent position based upon needs, interests and talents for a more focused exposure to the S&D world. The year-round internships engage students in different departments on a part-time basis coordinated with their class schedules providing valuable work experience, a nice paycheck and for many, additional academic credits.

The apprenticeship programs, meanwhile, currently have almost 70 participants with 29 being first-year apprentices. The program includes a mix of high-school graduates, young adults who have separated from the military and adult career changers from other industries. All apprentices have journeyperson mentors to guide them through the program.

Shapiro & Duncan seeks apprentices and intern candidates with postings on the company’s website and on a variety of third-party employment websites. Additionally, the company as whole supports and are actively involved in career and technology programs in the local school systems. Many Shapiro & Duncan team members regularly participate in career days and fairs as well.

At Shapiro & Duncan, internship and apprenticeship programs are just the starting point for employee development. We’ve taken employee education and training to the next level by creating S&D YOUniversity.

This in-house educational program helps employees advance in their careers and earn more as they continue their career development. The company also offers tuition reimbursement (up to $5,250/year), for those pursuing associates, bachelors and master’s degrees.

The sooner construction companies recognize the tremendous workforce potential of the Z and Millennial generations entering careers in the construction trades, the better it will be for the nation’s economy. Construction, literally and figuratively, builds economic opportunity. Just as a business invests in IT infrastructure, new equipment or facility improvements, construction companies need to view education, training and development as a strategic investment opportunity.

Owners of construction companies, meanwhile, can offer useful guidance to young people deciding on a career path. A key point to share is that by the time a young person would have graduated from college, they can be making as much or more as a four-year degree holder – without the overwhelming burden of student debt. But prospective employees also need to know that success in the construction trades demands investing in oneself, through continuing education and training.

Shapiro & Duncan consciously provides career development opportunities that provide the impetus for new employees to find the right career path. Are you making the investment in the people who are working for you? If not, you are missing an opportunity to create not only a better image for your company and for the industry at large – but also a healthier bottom line!

Stacey Holsinger is marketing manager and Mark Drury is V.P. of business Development at Shapiro & Duncan, Inc., a third-generation family-owned mechanical contracting business serving customers in the Washington, D.C. area since 1976. Shapiro & Duncan is the “provider of choice” for complex commercial, government and institutional design-build projects that require first-rate performance, work quality and customer service.