Returning Veterans to Make a Great Resource in the Construction Industry
BY RAUL GARCIA AND BRAD BENHART
As the United States exits the recession and idle construction projects begin to have a pulse, the industry will soon be looking at a worker shortage at all levels: craft and management. This backlog of stalled projects, coupled with new developments, is going to tax the companies that survived the recession with cutbacks and leaner staffs. During the economic downturn many construction workers sought employment overseas. Some left the industry all together. Along with the added pressure of baby boomer retirements, the perfect storm for employee shortages is brewing. Not knowing if these workers will return to the industry, construction companies should look into increasing the number entering the field. Unfortunately, young people do not see the industry as a viable employment field at any level.
The U.S. Department of Labor is estimating that the construction industry
would need to increase by 240,000 new workers each year
for the next five years in order to meet the forecasted construction projects.
Each year there are 200,000 to 300,000
military personnel leaving the military for the private sector.
Where does the industry go to find talented, hardworking people? The answer lies with the military sending many talented young people into the workforce. These men and women have numerous hours of technical training and, most importantly, a proven ability to be trained and work on a team with a common goal. Why not seek these returning heroes who would make a great investment to a construction company?
A construction project team requires management/supervision personnel, administrative staff, financial professionals, and skilled trade workers. Within these positions, strong ethics and characteristics are key traits to possess in order to succeed. Not only does military training embed these assets in their members, there are many military occupational specialties (MOS) that have transferable skills to a construction team. For example, there are administrative, accounting and financial jobs in the military and those skills can transfer to similar private sector jobs. It would be ideal for contractors to seek these individuals that have experience in these fields while serving in the military. With minimal training they would be able to generate a return on investment for their employer. Also, a construction project manager and/or superintendent manage the field, logistics and production to meet or beat the schedule and within budget. The superintendent manages personnel to get the job done and does so by communicating with his subcontractors and general foreman. This position dovetails with a senior or staff-level non-commissioned officer (NCO). These senior/staff NCOs accomplish their missions by communicating and supervising their platoons, sergeants and corporals, on down the ranks. They both have an objective and with their leadership skills and knowledge they do what they need to: accomplish their goal.
TRANSFERABLE SKILLS FROM MILITARY TO CONSTRUCTION
Strong work values→Teamwork
Commitment to Goals→Decisiveness
STRONG WORK VALUES
Leadership skills, strong work ethics, motivation and positive attitude are just some examples of the many values military veterans have gained and developed while serving. From day one of basic training, the military focuses on embedding strong values and skills into their new “volunteered” members. These men and women knowingly risked their lives for this dream and commitment. Leadership and self-confidence are what motivates others to follow. Being assigned small tasks and able to lead small groups is a stepping stool to gain that experience and confidence to lead larger groups. Everyone in the military learns this in one form or another. This helps prepare readiness in battle and make life-saving decisions and reactions. Though different scenarios, the construction industry requires quick, smart decisions done under pressure and on the spot. Failure to do so loses productivity and money. This could be due to design change, engineering, schedule, and inspections. Again, all similar changes that is encountered in the military.
In the military, team building and teamwork are significant factors to one’s ability to be successful. Soldiers train every day and learn to work together in a team to accomplish their missions. They develop camaraderie and do whatever it takes to get the job done and protect their own. This esprit de corps would benefit and could motivate others in a construction team to work together through those stressful stages (usually at the start up and close to substantial completion) of the project.
Construction projects are schedule-based; success is often measured by completing them on time and under budget. There are times when trades and management will require working longer hours, night shifts, and on weekends to be within schedule due to design change, weather, or any unplanned event. Military service men and women are adaptable and maintain flexibility in completing tasks in any environment and workplace. They train and work hard for long hours and on weekends if that is what is required of them so they would be able to adapt to these conditions all while maintaining a positive attitude. Consider sailors on ships for weeks or months. They are committed to the ship/jobsite and understand the connectivity required to keep the project moving.
Another great attribute of a former military member is the ability and motivation to move up and advance in their careers. The military has a rank structure and these veterans have learned that each rank requires continuous work. Career advancement in the military requires constant learning and consistent performance. The motivation and self-confidence to acquire the next rank is a great asset to have in the construction industry. Employing motivated employees translates into project success.
PROFESSIONALISM, LEADERSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The professionalism and leadership that a veteran has learned and instilled in their military career would benefit themselves in the construction industry. Military personnel conduct themselves professionally whether it is to show respect to a higher-ranking individual or while assigned overseas and representing the U.S. in a foreign country. They are taught and directed to maintain themselves professionally and have learned to do so in diverse situations. While not only trained to conduct themselves in an upstanding manner, they are taught to maintain a professional military appearance. Sharp uniform, proper hygiene and overall appearance show respect to people around them. This is important in the construction industry as a construction professional never knows when he might come across an owner/owner’s representative, architect, or executive of the company on the project conducting a job walk and may get stopped and asked questions about the project. Maintaining a professional demeanor highlights and promotes a person’s attitude, his company, and the overall project.
STEPS FOR A COMPANY TO HIRE HEROES
For construction companies to seek out these veterans the best approach is to research their closest military facility within their area and or Veterans Affairs website such as: www.va.gov, helmetstohardhats.org or www.hireourheroes.org. The military has a department that helps outgoing military transition into the civilian world and can provide information on upcoming job fairs. Many veterans attend these within months of their separation to prepare themselves for future civilian life.
Another step would be to contact the local or state university and look for their campus Veterans Affairs office. They have files of all military and recently released students attending their school. Contractors should request a list of all interested students seeking employment that are in engineering, construction management, or management majors in order to contact them for interest with their company. Construction professionals can post information in the local newspaper or military paper that their company is seeking veterans for employment. The National Center for Construction Education and Research (www.nccer.org) is a resource for folks looking to support the military and can provide informative links for veterans specifically searching for construction jobs.
Earlier this year, AGC of America released a workforce development plan, “Preparing the Next Generation of Skilled Construction Workers: A Workforce Development Plan for the 21st Century,” which outlines a series of measures that federal, state and local officials should adopt to expand secondary-school career and technical education and post-secondary training opportunities so more people can enter into a growing number of high-paying jobs. Regarding vetrans, AGC believes Congress should enact measures to allow veterans participating in pre-apprenticeship training programs to receive the same amount of educational assistance as individuals participating in apprenticeship programs. This will make it easier for veterans to begin the process of acquiring construction skills. In addition, Congress should extend the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which aids employers in hiring veterans, as well as individuals receiving disability rehabilitation and residents of empowerment zones and rural renewal counties.
Earlier his year, AGC partnered with Hiring Our Heroes as part of the construction industry’s effort to add 100,000 veterans over the next five years. AGC encourages construction employers nationwide to get involved in order to reach that goal.
Construction firms, when considering a new hire, should give time and respect to those brave men and women who are returning to the workforce. There are numerous ways to seek these heroes and the time invested would be beneficial for both parties. There is a win / win here for the country and the construction industry.