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Could Training Be the Answer to Retention Challenges?


There’s no denying a shortage of skilled workers for the construction industry. As baby boomers retire, mid- to upper-level positions are opening, but contractors are having trouble finding people to replace those openings in addition to entry-level positions. The current unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 18 years, creating a candidate-driven market with more job openings than job seekers. It’s more important now than ever to train the crew you have into the crew you need to avoid turnover and continue to build a profitable and sustainable business. Millennials and Generation Z now make up one third of the workforce, and 87 percent of them rate career growth and development as very important to them in a job. The good news is that there are steps contractors can take to retain, develop and upskill their crews that make a difference in skill level, productivity and the bottom line.

In today’s candidate-driven market, there are many reasons employees leave their positions. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the four primary reasons employees leave their current roles are:

  • Employee dissatisfaction – Unclear role expectations or inadequate training can contribute to dissatisfaction.
  • Better alternative opportunities – Companies are beginning to offer out-of-the-box benefits to entice candidates like extended training opportunities and tuition reimbursement.
  • Change of plans – Going back to school, starting a family or moving can play a role in employee turnover.
  • A negative experience – Workplace injuries or a negative event or incident can tarnish an employee’s view of their company.

As competition for skilled workers grows, there are always other job opportunities around the corner and construction companies must up the ante to keep employees satisfied. Through training initiatives, turnover can be greatly reduced as it results in employees feeling valued, confident in their role and safe at work.

Here are a few ways to reduce turnover using employee training programs.

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), over 303,000 apprentices have been hired since January 1, 2017, through the Registered Apprenticeship program. Starting an apprenticeship program has been proven to help contractors combat the skilled worker shortage. Registered apprenticeship programs through the DOL connect job seekers with employers in the trades and let seasoned employees pass on skills to aspiring professionals, benefitting both employers and employees.

Benefits to Employers:

  • Increased productivity – When workers receive one-on-one training, they are more likely to be engaged at work. Engaged employees translate into 22 percent higher productivity.
  • Customizable apprentice programs – Flexible program options allow managers to design the programs that work best for their business and companies in niche markets can train in highly specialized fields.
  • Increased retention – When employees receive meaningful training, they develop a purpose to come into work each day and are more likely to stay in their role.
  • Safer workforce – There is nothing more important than safety on the jobsite. Apprentices learn safe practices from their training which promotes a company-wide culture of safety.

Benefits to Employees:

  • Paid training – Unlike college classes, apprentices get paid to learn their skill, averaging around $14 per hour to start. New high school graduates can earn above minimum wage without taking on college debt.
  • Nationally recognized credentials – Registered apprenticeship programs typically require about 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of job-related training. These credentials earn them the title of journeyman, signifying they are competent and knowledgeable enough to work independently.
  • Career advancement – With journeyman credentials, apprentices can advance more quickly in their careers because they have the knowledge and confidence to work at a higher skill level.
  • Higher lifelong wages – According to DOL, the average annual income for workers who completed an apprenticeship is $60,000, and those individuals typically make $300,000 more over their entire career than non-apprenticeship individuals.

There are multiple ways to register an apprenticeship program depending on company size and number of locations:

  • National Guideline Standards (NGS) – best for large companies with multiple locations that wish to use a flexible apprenticeship program model so various locations can create their own programming and initiatives.
  • National Program Standards (NPS) – best for large companies with multiple locations that wish to use the exact same program company-wide.
  • Local Apprenticeship Program Standards – best for companies operating in one state or region.

For more information on Registered Apprenticeships, check out the DOL Apprenticeship Toolkit.

Although resumes, interview responses and pre-hire assessments can give managers an idea of expected skillsets of employees, you never truly know a new hire’s skill level until you see them in action. If seasoned employees begin to slack off, having a newer employee shadow them can give them a renewed sense of purpose. When employees aren’t performing at the skill level you expect, don’t panic – there could be a job shadowing opportunity that might uncover other valuable skills that the employee can contribute in a different way. Job shadowing can also help companies plan for expected turnover, like retirements.

Here are a few ways to implement job shadowing at your company.

  • During Onboarding – While onboarding a new employee, develop a rotating schedule with experienced workers in different areas of expertise. The new employee can learn from different types of workers and may discover a path they prefer to explore within your company.
  • After a Performance Review – If an employee is struggling with performance, develop a performance improvement plan that includes job shadowing with high-performing employees.
  • Incorporate it in Company Culture – Regular job shadowing opportunities can be incorporated into your company culture. For struggling employees, this route can decrease stress around job shadowing, as it won’t seem like a consequence for poor performance if everybody in the company does it too.

Job shadowing can also give employees a better idea of where they fit in the company, bringing more purpose to their position. If an employee is a framer, job shadowing a finish carpenter can give them a first-hand idea of why their framing work was so important in the beginning of the project.

Professional associations like the AGC of America provide countless resources to construction companies. AGC offers national training programs on subjects like project management, building information modeling, Lean construction and safety management. Members can take courses and exams to earn further certifications.

Attending monthly or weekly meetings and conferences through professional associations provides benefits to members too. Industry leaders can network and share best practices for training and retention. Conferences often invite industry vendors to present, allowing construction leaders to learn about new products and services others in their industry have found success with.

Home computers are becoming scarcer, and pen and paper trainings and exams are being replaced with online learning. With a mobile-friendly online learning solution, users can train on the latest safety practices and complete exams from any mobile device. Benefits to online learning include 24/7 accessibility from anywhere, customizable training options and an easier way to track and manage completed courses and certifications. With the right online learning solution, managers can more easily upskill their employees while maintaining workplace safety and compliance.

Training is just one way to promote higher levels of upskilling, employee satisfaction and retention. There are many resources available to contractors to develop a successful training program that will also help keep workers safe and certified. As competition for skilled workers grows, training can be an impactful way to stay ahead of the curve and win business, while maintaining a productive workforce.

Chris Lennon is VP of product at BirdDogHR. Chris can be reached at clennon@birddoghr.com. Or, visit www.birddoghr.com.