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Hiring the wrong employee can be just as disruptive to a construction business as failing to find candidates amid the ongoing labor shortage. Companies can implement strategies in their day-to-day operations to help enhance company culture, improve optics for recruitment, and allow candidates to clearly understand values, expectations, and career trajectory.

During the “Real-World Strategies to Attract & Retain Top Construction Talent” session at the 2024 International Builders’ Show, three business owners spoke with Buildertrend CEO and co-founder Dan Houghton about how their companies are implementing innovative recruiting techniques, onboarding practices, and employee empowerment to maintain the right workforce for their companies.

Recruiting Techniques

Nick Schiffer, founder of Massachusetts-based NS Builders, and Joe Christensen, founder and owner of St. Louis-based Cardinal Crest Homes, both discussed the importance of social media as a recruiting tool. By sharing the company story, highlighting subcontractors, and allowing users to see behind the brand name, potential employees can get a sense of the company’s values and identity.

“Social media helps us sell the clients, sell the subcontractors, and sell to employees or potential employees. [Potential employees] want to see the story and artistry,” Christensen said. “That’s what got us into this industry, and we lose that all the time with all the chaos. You can tell your story your own way.”

Schiffer said oftentimes individuals have reached out directly because the company story on social media resonates with them and they would like to be a part of the journey. Even when individuals have not followed the company previously, social media posts and archives have served as a reference for candidates after interviews and a powerful recruitment tool.

“The story is really important, which is why we lean so much into social media,” Schiffer said. “At its core, we’re trying to attract people and retain people to be a part of this story.”

Ashley Kuhn, co-founder of Omaha, Nebraska-based Blair Freeman, said company culture and the existing workforce can be a powerful recruitment tool that requires no additional monetary investment.

“The tool to get people into your company if you have a solid culture is just to show them the culture you’ve made,” Kuhn said. “Take care of the people inside your organization because they are your biggest brand ambassadors. They are going to tell everyone [about your company], and that is going to attract people.”

With a tight labor market, Schiffer advised shifting toward a mindset of always hiring, regardless of whether your company has openings. He said he is transparent with candidates who reach a certain stage of the interviewing process about the potential hiring timeline but prefers to proactively find candidates year-round.

“We interview one candidate a week, that may be a phone interview or in-person interview,” Schiffer said. “We’d rather have a backlog of qualified candidates, because I’ve been on the other side of it where people have left the company, and we’ve impulse hired [without success].”

Christensen said in order to remain competitive with larger corporations with defined roles, benefits, and core values, construction companies should lean into some corporate practices to stand out to candidates.

“You have to get more corporate. All the younger people that are looking at jobs and to get into construction, they are getting bombarded by very structured companies that give them corporate mission statements, job descriptions, and benefit packages,” Christensen said. “That is one of the biggest challenges I see, all the corporations around us are grabbing these young people and enticing them much better than anyone else.”

Career Trajectory

Schiffer shared that an important tool he has developed for both new hires and existing employees is a document that explicitly states the responsibilities, salary ranges, job descriptions, and pathways for growth for each role in the company. The 100-page document leveraged artificial intelligence to help create descriptions and serves as something that all employees can reference regularly.

“Hiring is really tied back to myself and the company and giving someone the understanding of where they could grow into and giving them the opportunity to do so,” Schiffer said. “I shared [the document] with new hires, and when they started, they said the reason they joined [our company over competitors] was because we had their whole career mapped out.”

Core Values and Differentiators

Each panelist discussed the importance of stated company core values. The core values reflect company culture and can serve as a North Star to guide toward the type of candidates to search for in the hiring process. Additionally, stating the values can help with retention by causing companies to intentionally focus on the values in the day to day of the business.

“Core values is what company culture is. The foundation of your culture is your core values, and how you execute that and fill in the voids of [your values] is how culture tends to bubble up,” Christensen said. “[Your values] is a living document. It’s the foundation of your company culture, but the company culture is your people and how you interact with them. You have to be authentic about it [and] you can’t force it.”

Kuhn echoed these sentiments, sharing that by placing people at the center of the company, retention, culture, and even recruitment fall into place.

“People are the most important thing in our company. We have a shared leadership model in our company where we allow staff to decide if we are going to take a project, if a person is going to get a promotion, etc.,” Kuhn said. “That makes it so everyone is bought in on the direction we are moving and keeps people engaged.”

Kuhn and Schiffer also discussed how benefits can help differentiate from other construction companies and increase retention rates.

“Our work works around your life and not the other way around,” Kuhn said. “One of our core values is family and creating a space that people want to be. It’s about reinforcing that your life is important and your life is important to us. That’s the easiest retention tool.”

At Blair Freeman, Kuhn offers employees unlimited vacation, health benefits, and the company shuts down for two weeks around Christmas and one week around Thanksgiving. Schiffer and NS Builders shut down for the two weeks around Christmas and for the week around July 4; employees also receive 401(k) benefits. At Cardinal Crest Homes, Christensen has introduced a profit-sharing model and financial transparency to employees.

“The industry is changing, the workforce is changing, and you have to change with it,” Christensen said.

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