Why Construction Contractors Should Target the Unemployed

How contractors can find, and hire, the best available workers even in a worker shortage

While it’s always important to keep your eyes open for those gifted employed workers looking to “upgrade” their career, the available talent among the unemployed might be better than we know.
While it’s always important to keep your eyes open for those gifted employed workers looking to “upgrade” their career, the available talent among the unemployed might be better than we know.

Smart construction leaders realize that without good workers there is only so much productivity success, and therefore profitability, that can be realized.

Let’s take a brief look back at how the economy has impacted the “available” workers. At the early onset of our economic woes, many construction companies let a few workers go. This was often achieved by retiring a few older workers and laying-off workers who were less than productive. Such action bought companies more time to weather the situation and determine if business would turn positive or fall further.

As the economy deteriorated further, more companies realized that they needed to shed a few more workers. In short, many companies were forced into cutting into their “meat” of talent, sending away a second wave of workers. It is in this group of unemployed workers that we may find a higher percentage of “best available” talent.  

Therefore, finding the best available workers, and hiring them before your competitors do, will require you to be quick, educated and action oriented. So, update that “old HR Handbook” and consider several techniques to start adding to your company of winners.

Review & Replace “Old” Job Descriptions

I’m almost embarrassed by referring to “job descriptions” because so many organizations have either abandoned their use or haven’t updated them in years. So, let’s begin using the term Position Roles & Responsibilities, or, PRR for short.

Before you begin “looking” for new employees you need to know what you are looking for. The PRR document should clearly state what each specific position would require to perform the job effectively. Thus, the role an employee might need to fulfill could include such items as team member, tool preparer, mechanical assistant, crew leader, quality inspector, safety auditor, etc. 

For each role identified a short list of responsibilities should be created. For the team member role, for example, the list of responsibilities could include some of the following:

  • Show up to work on time
  • Assist in preparing equipment/tools for project
  • Assist in cleaning equipment/tools/jobsite
  • Support others when requested
  • Ask questions when you don’t understand
  • Follow directions of leader
  • Provide input when you have ideas

The reason the individual responsibilities should be so clearly stated is that many of today’s workers need to know specifically what to do. These new workers are coming to the construction industry without any prior experience. Also, as you bring any new worker to your employment you want to shape their future work habits around what YOU WANT.  Fail at this and you will be hiring bad habits and the work culture efforts of other companies. Hey, let’s reap the good from other companies BUT under the clear leadership of your company. Set your company apart!

Develop an Employee Positional Profile (EPP)

Along with the PRR, the EPP gives you an almost unbeatable combination of hiring tools. Consider the following ingredients of an effective EPP (you will need to expand on each ingredient used for each different EPP developed):

  • The amount of interaction with other employees
  • The amount of interaction with contractors, clients, suppliers, etc.
  • Level of decision making, problem solving— i.e. figuring things out “on the fly”
  • Presentation skills needed and who will they present to
  • Work dress expected: company uniform, long pants, shirts, etc.
  • Personality or communication style most needed such as friendly, detailed-oriented, methodical, dominant, sales-oriented, process focused, etc.

If you have ever thought, “He’s just not right for the job,” you will better understand why information captured from the EPP will greatly benefit your effort to find the best workers. Certainly we should try to employ people who are technically talented, but if they do not possess needed “social skills” you are heading for trouble. Aim high to hire skilled workers both technically and socially.

Fishing in the right “holes” for unemployed workers

Now that you have the foundation of what you will look for in hiring the right worker…it’s time to go “fishing.” In this case we will seek out new fishing holes while not overlooking some old familiar holes.

Some old and familiar “holes” such as newspaper want ads, accepting walk-in traffic to complete applications, paying a $50 commission for referrals from current employees,etc., are all good to maintain. However, a more aggressive search strategy should be employed using a few of the following.

  • Conduct your own “job fair” — Advertise your job fair on the Internet, local news outlets, frequently visited bars and restaurants, etc., and hold the fair at your location. Prepare a small battery of tests, some paper tests, some technical tests and some people skill tests. Engage your leaders and select front-line workers to participate by asking questions, role playing and providing technical observation and assistance.
  • Solicit suppliers for best available workers — Construction leaders tell me that some of their best hiring decisions came by way of a recommendation from a local material or equipment supplier. Why? Because suppliers interact with a wide range of companies and quickly notice those talented workers. Plus, many workers are a bit more relaxed when talking to a supplier representative, knowing that the supplier is in the know about the better companies to work for and who is looking.
  • Educate job placement agencies, churches and volunteer organizations on your needs — This will take more energy but could produce some nice results. Good workers, who are sincerely looking for work, will make themselves a nuisance with job placement agencies. Likewise, it is always amazing to me how often some folks become more involved with their local church or perform some volunteer work when out of work. Develop a one-page description of the type of worker you are looking for (pull from your PPR & EPP) and personally discuss this with individuals within those organizations. You might find the church secretary or pastor, or the director of a local volunteer organization, to be your best “head hunter.” Remember, “losers” seldom give of themselves to others when out of work because they think others “owe me.” On the other hand, “winners” can’t stand to stay at home, they want to stay busy and contribute.

The techniques presented here require some creative thinking, preparation and execution. While it’s always important to keep your eyes open for those gifted employed workers looking to “upgrade” their career, the available talent among the unemployed might be better than we know.

The best available workers are out there; we just need an organized effort to go find them. Some economists project that as the economy slowly improves (and it will improve!) the job market might likely turn to an “employees market.”  This would most likely set off a buying war for employees, driving up wages. 

So it’s in your best interest now to find those workers who can make a great contribution to your firm. Use the PPR and the EPP to help you gain a stronghold to what you will be looking for in your search. You might just strengthen your search and land a few future superstars at a bargain price.