How Progressive Contractors Attract, Develop and Sustain Effective Employees /08-13-2014

Recently, the Pinnacle Center for Competitive Intelligence & Development (CCID) completed some very interesting research on a few studies looking to see what successful contractors were doing to find and keep effective workers.  With some national statistics claiming that the entire United States construction industry is short some 1.5 million workers, it might be “profitably wise” to see what some of the more successful contractors are doing to hold their own and then some.

I had a chance to interview Colby Humphrey, CCID director, about this important issue.  What follows are some of the critical exchanges Colby and I had on some of his findings. I’ve added my own insights that might be more practical and applicable for more of the specialty contractor readers of The Contractors Best Friend.

Brad - Colby, much of what you’ve found looked at the more progressive general contractors and what they were doing about some of the employee issues facing businesses today.  Why did you start with this segment of the construction industry?

Colby – Well, there is much more information and statistics on the general contractor than many of the specialty contractors.  So, in starting with the GCs we are able to see some general trends.  In the research conducted by the CCID we’ve found that what GCs do often gets replicated in some form by many of the larger and more progressive specialty contractors.  In some cases, as you know, the specialty contractor can take something conducted by a GC and actually improve upon it as they might not have the bureaucracy to move through.

Brad – I would concur with that in many cases.  In fact, some of the things that I teach and coach with GCs I have also found helpful, albeit tailored, for many specialty contractors.  So, based on your research, what were some of the more progressive general contractors doing to attract, develop and retain a quality workforce?

Colby – We found several efforts built around several primary areas, including:

  • A few techniques some general contractors are using to attract quality workers;
  • What trends appear to be happening impacting employee training;
  • How critical the workplace or corporate culture is to attracting quality workers and improving this culture;
  •  Looking at developing more positive and proactive employee treatment efforts with a changing and more diverse employee;
  • The contractor’s effort at succession plans and creating opportunities for better workers to stay longer.

Brad – OK, then let’s start with your first finding.  How are some of the more progressive GCs attracting quality workers?

Colby - Progressive GCs use a variety of methods to attract workers.  In addition to the more traditional avenues such as posting hiring ads or word of mouth, a growing number of GCs take part in regional networks seeking to educate younger potential employees on the value of a construction degree.  Actually, a good example of this is in Wisconsin where a number of GCs take part in, which is a program designed to educate high school students on the value of a certificate or degree in construction.

Additionally, progressive GCs are pursuing the following initiatives to attract workers:

  • Networking with community and industry groups to attract talent
  • Providing internship/co-op programs to recruit workers (One interesting key here, with younger workers, appears to be able to make the internship personally and professionally VALUABLE.)

Brad – I’ve actually heard about the Wisconsin effort you mentioned, having worked with a few of the better GCs in the country, and from what I can tell the effort put forth by the GCs in Wisconsin is really second to none in the country. But the word you emphasized that I didn’t want to overlook is your word “valuable.” Can you expand on that a bit?

Colby – Sure.  What we found out about many internships or co-op programs is that many of the college participants are often given “boring” tasks.  In some cases, interns are literally making copies or running errands for the GC.  This has been recognized by these same progressive GCs and they are radically changing their strategy.  In some cases, the interns are made to be a more intimate part of whatever area they are serving in.  They are given more actual technical training by the GC, giving them a much better perspective of what exactly their degree is leading them to entertain as a career choice.

Brad – That’s awesome, actually, as this gives the intern not only a more realistic and clear picture to whatever his interest is, but it also gives the GC a chance to see what talent and potential the intern might actually have.  I know that many of the general contractors I have worked with actually use the internship as a tool to assess potential employees.

Colby – Yes, that’s right.  Let me share another manner in which progressive general contractors are attracting workers. Recruiting military veterans appears to be an area of growing interest for progressive GCs.  For instance, the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) has partnered with the federal government’s “Joining Forces” initiatives to encourage companies nationwide to hire more veterans.  Private initiatives, such as Veterans2Construction, are also in place to encourage construction companies to hire veterans.  From what I’ve studied, this is growing among some of the progressive general contractors.  Actually, it makes sense as many veterans have learned the value of discipline, giving and taking instruction, demonstrating respect for others etc.

Brad – Yes, I have read about such “partnering” up between construction and our armed service veterans.  If I may, Colby, let me take a short “time-out” from our interview and readdress this first important effort for many of our readers who are specialty contractors.

For the Specialty Contractor, or SC, attracting the best available worker is just as critical as it is for any general contractor.  The Specialty Contractor can perform some of the same efforts to find their better future workers.  Just consider a few of the efforts by some of the better SCs when it comes attracting good workers.

  • SC “partners” with local high schools to sponsor and educate students on the positive aspects of construction
  • SC speaks at local high schools, vocational schools, junior colleges
  • SC supports local government initiatives about hiring the unemployed
  • SC sponsors interviewed and selected students or Vets under an apprenticeship or similar certification
  • SC takes on one or more interns each year from the local universities, colleges and even high schools
  • SC participates in local job fairs with greater educational emphasis at their booth
  • SC conducts its own job fair where they can have 3-5 skill driven “games” to allow attendees the chance to show their abilities and potential
  • SC creates a 6-8 week skill training class, conducted on Saturday mornings for interested individuals…for free

Over the years I’ve heard from many Specialty Contractors who feel like they get “seconds” when it comes to hiring quality workers.  Many SCs feel like the general contractor will always be able to “out recruit” and hire any SC in the area. 

While the general contractor might get some of the better candidates in any one area, the fact is that not all potential employees for construction want to work for a general contractor.  Some would rather work for a more specialized contractor, having more confidence in a specific area of construction they like the most. 

If your organization is facing the same reality that many contractors, of all specialties, are facing when it comes to attracting more quality workers, let me add just a few more thoughts.  (We’ll pick up my interview with Colby Humphrey again in our next article in this series.)

1. To make our industry attractive…we must be attractive!

This isn’t a cosmetic or hairdressing issue, this is about allowing the “non-construction minded” candidate to see our industry as perhaps the greatest industry in the world.  So,

  • Clean up your trucks and equipment
  • Put your workers in uniforms
  • Treat workers, customers and visitors with respect
  • Reward workers for doing positive things
  • Get local newspapers to do articles on your workers
  • Place promotions and recent hires’ pictures in local papers
  • Update your website to actually welcome visitors and demonstrate your desire to engage great people looking for great opportunities

2. To make your company “fun”…you must have some fun!

OK, not to go party crazy but start celebrating more with your current workers.  Come on, spend a few bucks a month and have some pizza, chicken wings, ice cream, BBQ etc. brought in to the shop or delivered straight to the job site.  Celebrate good work, quality results, safe working records, attendance, birthdays etc.  Just start making it fun for your current workers and I guarantee you that they’ll not be shy about bragging on the company to their friends and family.

3. Take the “internship” idea seriously and “Just do it”!

GCs don’t have the market on extending an internship opportunity to college students.  Most SCs just don’t have the mindset to create this great opportunity to test the waters for potential employees.  Here are four simple steps to jump-start your internship now.

  1. Identify exactly what position you’d like to support and develop 5-7 training efforts for the position
  2. Document (a) and meet with local colleges or universities to discuss your interest in sponsoring an intern
  3. Interview potential interns and share what your planned effort to assist their knowledge of construction will be and how your company may be the perfect learning environment
  4. Once an intern is selected, present them with a 90-day plan to assure them of what they will be doing, where they will be spending their time and who they will be working with.  Include weekly discussions where they can “download” you with what they have learned.

OK, will pick up with the other trends of progressive contractors in our next article.  For now however, let’s get our eyes refocused on how we can attract more quality workers to our companies, not to mention to our industry.

Work on being “attractive.”

Brad Humphrey  

© 2014 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™

You can reach Colby Humphrey, director of the Pinnacle Center for Construction Innovation & Development, via e-mail at or via the website at; follow CCID on twitter @pinnacleCCID.