The construction industry today faces a unique problem: Home building companies aren’t struggling to find work: they’re struggling to find workers.
The recession eliminated massive numbers of construction jobs. Construction employment decreased 19% from 2007 to 2015. This drove many construction laborers into other fields or out of the country altogether. Now, the industry faces a skilled labor shortage. The economy may be back but skilled laborers are staying put in other industries. Even in industries where the paychecks are smaller, many find it prudent to play a safe bet in a growth industry than a risky one in an industry that’s burned them once.
Retiring Baby Boomers have shrunk the skilled workforce even more. Sixty-one-percent of skilled laborers believe that younger generations are not fully aware of the field. They’re right: Millennials are less interested in skilled manual labor than Baby Boomers. The younger generation is not replacing retiring workers in construction. Younger talent is seeking out white-collar jobs requiring a degree rather than blue-collar skilled labor jobs.
Talent poaching makes matters worse. To be fair, talent poaching, or the act of “politely stealing” employees from related companies or industries, happens in all competitve industries. In the construction industry, many companies are giving up searching for unemployed or partially-employed skilled laborers and are working hard to draw talent away from their competitors.
For example, the oil booms in North Dakota and Texas created a demand for new housing, yet contractors couldn't find the workers they needed to take on the new projects. Oil companies poached talent from construction companies by offering six figure salaries and bonuses. In the Hartford Business, construction outfit owner Eddy Mitzel is quoted as saying, “I'm bringing in workers from other parts of the country where the economy has not yet recovered.” This is only a temporary solution for Mitzel and others. The out-of-state labor pool is shrinking as the US economy continues to improve and workers are finding jobs closer to home.
As everyone in the industry struggles to find qualified talent, builders are stepping up their job marketing strategies and job perks. Retaining workers is hard work. Here are a few tips for keeping your skilled employees content and working for you:
Promote continuing education and training. Millennials make up most of the workforce now, surpassing Generation X in numbers. What makes Millennials more likely to keep their jobs? A continued challenge. You can engage your Millennial workers by investing in their career development. They don’t want to spend years in a job that doesn’t help them grow. Taking the time to develop your employees tells them you care about them and their growth. Offering leadership training, coaching, and mentoring to Millennial employees is one way to strengthen their confidence in construction.
Encourage open communication. Listening to your employees is one of the easiest and most direct ways you can beat back talent poachers. Clear lines of communication encourage employees to share feedback, problems, and frustrations with you. Waiting too long to ask if workers are happy and feeling engaged means they might make up their minds to leave before you can address a solvable situation. Listen, and do your best to respond positively and proactively to your employees concerns. If they don’t have your ear, someone else will be in theirs.
Build your company culture. It’s simply not enough to put together a nice job description and benefits package if you want a to build a healthy company that retains its employees. Company culture is one of those slippery terms that gets thrown around a lot these days. It’s defined as, “The collection of values and repeatable behaviors its (a company’s) employees display at work.”
A work culture can be positive or negative, formal or informal. Satisfied clients and happy employees are usually a sign of a positive company culture. Look at your staff. If you see camaraderie, a sense of pride, fairness, mutual respect, and trust, you have a great company culture. If your company is missing those elements, think about the boundaries, behaviors and actions you can promote to build a more positive culture at your company. Promoting a more positive culture will help you to retain more employees.
Offer opportunities to climb up the ladder. Promoting from within solves two problems for many construction companies. First, it eliminates the need to seek out new talent in a competitive labor market. Second, it encourages employees to stick around and advance within a company they enjoy working for. Creating a plan for employee promotion motivates employees to hone their existing skills and acquire new ones. Map out which positions are open and who you think is a good a fit for those roles. Laying out a clear path to promotion lets workers know what you expect of them if they want more responsibility and opportunities for growth within your company.