Many contractors I work with are worried that many construction workers who have lost their job might not want to return to construction due to its recent instability issues. Some of the same contractors also quietly admit that there are always a percentage of available workers who you might not hire in any situation, no matter how bad the need. While that may be, a contractor must still find those available and interested candidates for hire.
Adding to our current situation is the clear fact that a higher percentage of Baby Boomers, that backbone of the construction industry over the past 20 to 40 years, is now fast retiring. For Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, the outlook could be quite advantageous if they are not in too big of a hurry to retire at the traditional 65 years of age. It’s clear our industry has some real challenges ahead.
So, what can contractors do to offset the potential employee “cliff”? In a word…train!
Training has always been important, but for future contractors it may be the “X-factor” for contractors to embrace. Start training now or else risk huge shortages of developed workers at escalating wages as unprepared contractors will be paying more to hire away workers from other construction companies. This reality is very much in the picture for many contractors.
Ok, then what can we do as contractors? Let’s consider a few efforts that should be in place.
Recruit effective workers who are “Boomers”
If you have any Baby Boomers working for you, sit down with each one and discuss their long-term plans. If the Boomer is productive, energetic, committed, etc., then you might want to share with them your interest in keeping them working with your company. The proverbial thought many aging workers have is that an owner doesn’t want the “older guys.”
First of all, in today’s market, nothing could be further from the truth. Secondly, smart contractors do not need their 30, 40 or more years of experience and maturity just walking out of their company’s life…not if the worker has a desire and capability to keep working.
Spend time recruiting your Baby Boomers and let them know — if they are still productive and have a positive impact on performance and performers — that you need their expertise, discipline, commitment, loyalty and skills!
Position older Baby Boomers as trainers, coaches and mentors
If you have any experienced Boomers who are effective communicators, express your interest in having them become a trainer, coach or mentor to one or more of your other less-experienced workers. Not all Boomers are capable of such an effort, but impress upon your Boomers the opportunity that they have to leave a legacy through passing on their knowledge and expertise to the next generation or two of workers.
If you have Boomers planning on retiring in the next year or two, invite them to take the first three to six months of their retirement, complete their “honey-dues” for their spouse or get traveling, golfing, fishing or hunting out of their system and then come on back to work for you on a part-time basis.
For some recent retirees, having 20 to 30 hours of work a week is just great to make their week more meaningful while helping you out assisting workers who can benefit from the Boomer’s wisdom and tricks of the trade.
Instill a continuous learning work culture
Begin to take more time, and make use of opportunities, to turn work successes and failures into learning times. This can happen for the foreman of a crew of young carpenters needing some direction or for the concrete finishing boss who must refinish a patio to correct a mistake that a younger finisher can still learn from.
When you begin to see every day as an opportunity to learn and you drive each of your leaders to view each day the same way, you will flame the fire for learning. While “OTJ” training (On-the-Job) might take longer for workers to learn, it’s a better alternative to getting workers engaged quickly with developing a skill rather than wait on a local training school to start a new class for your trade.
Create your own construction “college” for your company
This isn’t as far-fetched as it might first appear. There are simply not as many trade schools, high school “shop classes” or courses offered at the local community college as there once were. Funding, lack of attendance and lack of interest by many communities all have contributed to our diminishing number of construction educational centers.
If this is a reality for your immediate area, start your own classes. One mason in Texas I’ve known for years created his own apprenticeship classes on Saturdays. Workers interested in becoming a mason had to attend classes each Saturday for three straight years. They had very few Saturdays off, except for holidays of course, but the rewards were tremendous to both the contractor and those who completed their three-year schooling. It can be done. Build a plan, and execute the plan!
Take on “seasonal” interns
Many contractors have begun to be more open to taking on the “summer intern.” Engaging high school or college students for weeks to months at a time can be another source of identifying potential workers. For the high school student, being exposed to the outdoors and to working with their own two hands can be very exhilarating and can impress them with how much they may actually love construction.
For me, working for a plumber one summer opened my eyes to how great it was to be working outdoors and to actually get to see some result by the end of each day. Many workers put in eight to 10 hours a day and never really see any result or advancement of their effort.
For the college interns, you may actually impress upon them that their college studies can improve their understanding of construction or perhaps that what they can accomplish in life can be better accomplished through a career in construction.
Attend and support local job fairs
While some of the larger contractors have participated in job fairs over the years, many small to mid-size contractors have not. This is a mistake. Many people looking for an opportunity to work can actually be more drawn to the smaller-sized contractor. “Smallness” can sometimes project family, more focused support, intimate leadership, etc.
Just like the smaller ratio of students to teacher can be good for students, so too can a smaller construction company be the right fit for the individual open to making construction her choice. Certainly attending, sponsoring and “showing” at job fairs can provide greater insights into what types of people make up some of the available workforce for your area.
Provide a recruiting “bonus” to workers who refer you to new workers
Smart contractors fully realize that their current workers all have friends and relatives. While not all unemployed brother-in-laws are worth the risk of hiring, there may still be many contacts of your workers who might be a great fit for your company.
The secret here is to educate your workers on what you are really looking for and asking them a simple question: “Would your friend (or relative) embarrass you or this company if they worked for us?” This type of question should be asked. Most employees do not want to recommend a friend or relative if that individual is known to be lazy, dishonest or incapable of doing the job.
Educate, encourage, enjoy…and invite workers to join you
I’ve never seen a contractor who wasn’t himself an avid learner who had employees who were hungry to learn. The contractor really does set the pace for the company’s appetite for knowledge. However, the contractor makes just as large an impact on his workers because he is positive, encouraging his workers to strive to be their best.
In the end, the contractor who really does enjoy his industry, his company and his employees just has more upbeat, motivated and hardworking employees. Have some fun and invite your entire workforce to really enjoy what they do. Laugh, get to know your workers, hold some free lunches once in a while, and invite your workers to enjoy the greatness of construction and watch how many employees work harder, work longer and stay with you longer!
Look, there are no shortcuts or secrets when it comes to training our workers. Its’ hard work because it takes a little preparation, a little planning and a little energy to teach, coach or mentor. Determine today NOT to be that contractor who does nothing; instead BE the contractor who recognizes that the long-term profitability of your business will greatly depend on what you are doing today in preparing the future workers to be their best!
In a past article I introduced a bumper sticker that I have framed in my office. It reads, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” If you and I do not commit to an educational strategy with our workers now we may only have the “ignorant” to consider for hire. Expend some energy and money now and be better positioned to realize profits later. The alternative to not doing this will surely cost us more in the future!
Start training now!