FINDING AND RECRUITING KEY TALENT
BY DEBRA WOOD
With construction employment on the upswing, firms are recruiting the brightest stars, so they can win jobs, work lean, successfully complete projects and secure repeat business.
“It’s getting very competitive in the industry with things picking back up,” says Trevor Gelder, corporate director of talent acquisition and deployment at Sundt Construction in Tempe, Ariz., an AGC member of several chapters. “You have to get out there and make things happen.”
Construction firms added 355,000 employees in the last 27 months, from the low point in January 2011, and employment increased in 152 metropolitan areas tracked by AGC of America.
“Construction employment could rise by another 250,000 to 350,000 again in the next 12 months,” projects Ken Simonson, chief economist for AGC of America. “But an increasing number of firms are likely to have difficulty finding workers in the right location with the right skills.”
An AGC analysis shows that approximately 1.6 million workers left the construction industry during its long, steep contraction from 2006 to 2011.
Ron Kubitz, recruiting/training manager, Brayman Construction Corp. in Saxonburg, Pa., an AGC member in Pennsylvania and
Ohio, expects many of those workers will opt to continue working in their new field and reports that in some areas of the country, contractors are already experiencing labor shortages.
“Recruiting the right talent requires a multifaceted approach,” Kubitz says. Methods depend on the position needed to be filled, with different techniques deployed for craft workers and professionals, Gelder adds.
ALWAYS LOOKING FOR TALENT
Many firms, including Brayman, Sundt, Balfour Beatty Construction of Dallas, Turner Construction Company of New York, S. M. Wilson & Co. in St. Louis and The Boldt Company in Appleton, Wis., will hire an outstanding candidate, even before a position opens up. Then they will slide him or her into the appropriate role as needed.
“We like to be prepared to go when we have the job,” says Dale Miller, vice president of S.M. Wilson, an AGC of St. Louis
member. “We look for good communication skills, people with a passion for what they do and the ability to play with others.”
S.M. Wilson also might bring in someone for a courtesy interview and then will keep in touch.
Mark Rounds, vice president of operations at Boldt in Waukesha, Wis., an AGC of Wisconsin member, agrees about hiring the right talent before the need arises.
“I can bring them on and use them in a support position, or it can give us strength to go after other opportunities,” Rounds says.
“We are always on the look out for projects. If there’s capacity for us to gain, we will hire early, so we can be aggressive to go after those opportunities.”
Rounds watches for high performers, folks who will fit the culture — people who will be honest and fair to the company and
to the client or owner, and people who enjoy what they are doing.
“We look for people who are innovative, adaptable and have good leadership skills,” says Kathleen Igoe, recruiting manager
for Turner, an AGC member of multiple chapters.
Finding the right match requires the applicant having the skills to technically perform the tasks and carry out the responsibilities of the job as well as meshing with the organization’s culture.
“Cultural fit is key,” says Michelle Perry, senior vice president of Human Resources for Balfour Beatty, an AGC member in several states. “With 90 percent to 95 percent of the people who fail, it has nothing to do with capability. It has to do with cultural fit. If you do a good job with fit, you are more likely to be successful.”
Gelder agrees about the value of a good cultural fit with the ability to work with existing talent. The company tries to determine that through the interview process.
AGC members aim to recruit a diverse team. Some projects require a certain percentage of minority or veteran employees,
and the firms find it’s good business. Balfour Beatty strives for inclusion, Perry says.
“You make better business decisions and are more successful if you have different viewpoints,” Perry says. “If everyone is
the same, you are not going to innovate and come up with the best answers.”
Therefore, the company looks for diverse candidates and has started a high-school mentoring program with a public school in
the Dallas metro area to encourage students of all backgrounds to pursue a career in the construction industry.
Rounds also reports that diversity brings differing opinions and seeks to hire not only minorities but also more women interns and engineers.
Turner works locally and on a national level with minority student associations. The company builds teams to best connect
with local chapters.
For professional positions, Sundt tries to woo experienced people with the proper skill set. Usually those folks are gainfully employed. Gelder aims to build relationships with them, so they know about Sundt. When the time is right, they might consider a move.
Kubitz also seeks out passive candidates, those who are not actively looking.
“They make the best candidates, will be more committed to you and not people that nine other companies are talking to,”
Candidates evaluate the job opportunity just as employers check out the job seeker.
“Career path is probably one of the most important benefits to a candidate,” Kubitz says. “Training opportunities go hand in
hand with that.”
Additionally, candidates are seeking a competitive salary and benefits package. The total reward package is most important,
along with company reputation and challenging opportunities, reports Igoe.
“People are looking not just at a number, but the whole of what you have to offer,” Igoe says. “They want to feel secure. They want to work for a company that can offer stability.”
A good work environment, a great culture and long-term stability prompt candidates to apply to S. M. Wilson, Miller says.
Gelder and Perry have found career opportunities paramount to all applicants, but after that, priorities vary by generation.
Baby Boomers tend to be more concerned with profit sharing and retirement plans, and Gen Y folks focus on work-life balance,
vacation time and social responsibility.
“People are looking to keep their careers moving up,” Gelder says.
Boldt wants people to have a career with the company and hires people attracted to its reputation, who want to please customers and are willing to learn and grow with the firm. Human resources has created a variety of career paths within Boldt, which employees can follow or change paths. Paths focus on growing personally and professionally at first, knowing the position in middle management, and then showing as an executive and grow the people below you.
“The individual and the company are responsible for their growth and knowledge,” Rounds explains.
All of the firms interviewed for this article already offer health insurance and are not worried about meeting the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Kubitz expresses some concern that Brayman may lose the competitive advantage it has maintained through offering a strong health plan if other companies are now required to upgrade to provide such coverage.
GROWING THEIR OWN
Many of the firms recruit on college campuses. None eliminated internships during the recession, although Boldt cut back.
“Our primary way of looking for employees is to bring them in young and grow them in the Boldt way, so we hire quite a few
interns from several universities in the areas where our offices are located,” Rounds says. He and other Boldt leaders serve on the universities’ boards, curriculum committees and teach or guest lecture.
“The biggest factor in Turner’s recruiting philosophy is a focus on collegiate recruiting – the understanding that it’s important we have a strong bench. We build internally and create opportunities for our folks to continue their development,” Igoe says.
Turner trains hiring managers in what the company is looking for and how to identify the competencies and cultural fit that will make someone successful with the company before they go to a campus or talk with candidates. Turner does not wait until a student’s senior year to reach out. It attempts to identify promising candidates during their freshman or sophomore year and educates them about opportunities with the company.
In 2006, Turner determined which schools have produced successful hires in the past and partnered a senior leader within
the company with those schools. Those leaders not only attend career fairs but also build relationships with professors, deans, student groups and others as part of a team approach to marketing the company on campus.
“College recruiting is year round,” Igoe says. “You have to always have a presence. Our leadership feels relationship building is ongoing to develop that bench strength.”
Turner has an active internship program, annually bringing on 250 to 300 interns, who tackle real-world projects, and an
equal number of new graduates, recession or no recession. The internship becomes part of the interview process, Igoe explains, with many successful interns becoming full-time employees upon graduation.
“Our most successful recruiting tool is our summer internship program for sophomores and juniors,” says Miller. “They work
for us for a couple years in a row and we can assess each other. We’ve been able to get some stars, some up and comers.”
S.M. Wilson primarily focuses on schools with civil engineering and construction programs in the Midwest.
Balfour Beatty offers scholarships, sponsors student events and purchases study materials for a class, in addition to participating in the traditional spring and fall career fairs. The company tailors its approach to the needs of each school and calls on alumni to tap and foster existing relationships.
“You need to make sure the pipeline is full, even during tough times,” agrees Perry.
Sundt partners with several universities with construction management programs and/or engineering and also hires interns
throughout the year.
“We have to focus on the next generation and bring in a diverse talent pool,” Gelder says.
Turner Construction coaches its current employees to represent the company well at industry functions and on the job, while
looking for people who might make good team members.
“Networking is very important, whether at the national level with AGC peers or locally,” Kubitz says. “The more networking,
A number of Sundt employees attend various specialty association functions and national conferences to network and build
relationships. They carry business cards with the company’s craft-worker hotline, so when they meet a possible candidate,
they hand him or her a card. The person can call to find out more about open positions and how to apply.
“In our world, it’s network, network, network,” Gelder says. “It’s building upon relationships.” Balfour Beatty continually watches for potential employees at industry events and will keep in touch with possible candidates, including folks who want to complete their current project for another firm before considering a switch. Human resources team members stay in contact with the person.
“When you have a need, you have the relationship forged, and that can help you in filling roles,” Perry says.
Key project managers and supervisors at Brayman look for potential candidates at networking events or on the job. They
might spot a good employee working for a subcontractor and refer that person to Kubitz for follow-up.
“Referrals are one of the more effective ways of getting strong candidates,” Kubitz says.
Boldt also prefers word-of-mouth recommendations. Miller, at S.M. Wilson, also called networking effective, but cautioned that the company is careful not to poach talent from firms it partners with on projects.
Balfour Beatty, S.M. Wilson and Brayman offer financial incentives to employees who refer a successful candidate.
“If you have great employees who know other people like themselves, they will also probably be great employees,” Perry says.
“One-quarter to one-half of our hires comes through employee or industry referrals.”
Most of the firms Constructor spoke with rely on in-house recruiters to attract talent, avoiding headhunter fees. Kubitz uses small, specialized job boards; for instance, those devoted to safety or geotechnical engineers. He also relies on social media to help find candidates and get the word out about the company and opportunities in the industry. He posts jobs on LinkedIn. The site offers paid postings, but allows members of groups to post to colleagues at no charge. Kubitz finds that this is the most effective method, since he can join in discussions about the availability. Brayman also posts hard-to-fill jobs and company information on Twitter.
“Social media and smaller niche job boards, in many cases, are more effective than large job boards,” Kubitz says.
When Kubitz meets a possible candidate at a live event or an employee refers someone, he will later look the person up
on LinkedIn to learn more about him or her and connect online. Sundt also connects with professional candidates through
social media, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. In addition, it maintains a blog.
“It’s about informing people of opportunities,” Gelder says. “The bigger the net, the better the chances of getting good talent.”
Perry uses LinkedIn to post jobs and search for people, but not Facebook.
“It helps for unique positions that you might not get a response for if you post the traditional way,” Perry says.
Balfour Beatty posts jobs on its website and on CareerBuilder. For a specialty position, it might reach out to the appropriate association, such as to a human resources organization if seeking an HR pro. If all fails, it might contract with a headhunting firm.
Sundt posts to its career site, several diversity and standard job boards, and at unemployment offices. It has, in the past,
outsourced finding talent, but now has built a robust internal recruitment team to handle the company’s accelerated growth.
S. M. Wilson, a military contractor, is required by its clients to advertise open in certain publications directed toward veterans or minorities and women. Because of the special nature of its military work, S. M. Wilson will conduct a national search through a recruiter. It also posts on its website and on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Rachel Miller, human resources manager at S. M. Wilson says very few candidates contact the company from social media sites. She reviews all resumes and responds to everyone who submits a resume, even those not meeting the qualifications.
Turner posts on LinkedIn and job boards when seeking experienced personnel, and Boldt relies on its website and pushes
notices to social media.
Balfour Beatty accepts only online applications. Human resources will screen potential candidates by telephone to ensure
they have the right experience and skills and that the candidate’s salary expectations match what is being offered. Recruiters review applications at Sundt and the hiring manager will handle a telephone interview, followed by an in-person
meeting and then a group interview, especially for professional positions.
“We ask about how they will handle certain situations and what they like and don’t like,” Gelder says.
Miller also prefers group interviews for local candidates. “I like to see how they interact with the group and under that
type of scruitiny, especially the younger people,” Miller says.
Kubitz reviews each resume personally, looking for specific attributes based on the search under way and the job description
to ensure a good match.
In most cases, Brayman will conduct two interviews, except for out-of-town applicants. Depending on the manager’s preference,
individual or group interviews are conducted.
Balfour Beatty conducts a group behavioral interview with the team members who will work with that person, asking the
candidate how he or she would respond in different situations. It allows for multiple opinions and good dialogue. It also helps with buy-in.
“If people are included up front and have a say-so in who is hired, they have a vested interest when the person comes on
board to ensure the new hire’s success,” Perry says.
Boldt conducts a phone or in-person interview with qualified candidates, to try to figure out who they are and if they will fit the culture, and then human resources administers the Drake P3 assessment instrument.
“It’s a communication survey, which is pretty in-depth,” Rounds says. “We look at the job position requirement with the grade
Boldt has administered the instrument to all of its top performers, graphed their profiles and knows what profiles work best in those positions. If the candidate fits the profile, it will conduct additional interviews with multiple people.
“It seems extensive, but it’s very important that we find people who will fit Boldt,” Rounds says.
Most of the leading firms conduct background checks and conduct drug screenings.
“It’s a safety thing and a reliability thing,” Kubitz explains. Once firms find the right candidate, firms must provide a good job experience or the talented individual may move on. Boldt provides an orientation and requires managers to train, coach and ensure a successful introduction to the company.
“You have to have a good onboarding process,” Kubitz says. “You have to get them involved early, as part of the team early
and engaged. If not, you will lose them within six months.”