AS HOUSING DEMAND across the U.S. outstrips supply, home builders find themselves clambering to get their construction teams in place.

But in today's consumer-driven world, just filling boots isn't enough. Construction teams must be able to balance quality and cycle time to deliver homes that exceed customer satisfaction expectations.

It's precisely a dearth of those management skills that has triggered the burgeoning demand for construction superintendents. While the industry is rife with them, there is a paucity of truly talented ones. With production goals a top concern, builders are pinched between wanting a quality superintendent and needing someone to just get the job done. Crystal Miller, search consultant for residential construction at Kaye/Bassman International in Plano, Texas, says the industry's turnover rate for superintendents is roughly 20 percent, with some market fluctuations.

Because builders have little time to dedicate to a search and even less time to train, the industry is teeming with sloppy superintendents that cycle through various builders. James McGuire, director of Pittsburgh-based Specialty Consultants, a construction and real estate executive search firm, says, “In a hot market like this, [there are a lot of superintendents] that shouldn't be and won't be employed if the market drops 20 percent.”

In the meantime, builders are sounding an urgent call, desperate for new ways to recruit and retain competent superintendents.

SALARY SPIKE Poaching has become a top recruitment method; it is the fastest and easiest way for builders to get their hands on experienced people. All they need to do is throw a little money at these people, especially the less experienced ones, and they'll leave. Industry consultant Bill Carpitella, CEO of the Sharrow Group in Rochester, N.Y., says, “The less sophisticated they are, the more likely they are to go down the street for an extra buck an hour.”

However, this approach spells trouble. True, it's a quick fix. But it also creates an artificial sense of value that breeds turnover. Superintendents now command more money than ever—not because their skills have improved but because builders cannot afford to fall behind in their production schedules.

“The pricing on supers is out of whack,” McGuire says. He says the Washington, D.C., market is a prime example, estimating that in the past five years superintendents' salaries have jumped more than $15,000. Florida is in the throes of a similar situation.

FORWARD PROGRESS Martin Freedland, president of Atlanta-based management consultant Organizational Development Associates, says he wouldn't be surprised if turnover rates for supers reached 40 percent or even 50 percent in some overheated markets. However, he adds that turnover is inversely proportional to years of experience.

“Most builders don't have strong enough programs to bring these people in and train them … in a pretty short period of time, they're trying to manage a community and they're not ready,” Freedland explains. “We toss them into the fire way too soon.”