Finding Construction Talent – and Keeping It

As baby boomers continue to retire, construction firms find it increasingly difficult to find and retain qualified workers. That said, certain demographic trends are giving these companies a glimmer of hope that the tide may be turning — albeit slowly.

Unlike the two generations before them, Generation Z has shown greater interest in trade employment that doesn’t require a degree. For some in this demographic (defined as young adults born between 1995 and 2010), the benefits of long-term employment, financial success and entrepreneurial opportunities in construction and related fields (plumbing, electrician work, etc.) are  appealing. This is especially true when compared to the prospect of five- or six-digit student debt.

It’s still too early to tell whether this represents a significant paradigm shift, but industry professionals are carefully tracking it. What cannot be disputed, however, is the need for construction companies to be proactive in their efforts to recruit and retain workers of all ages. Times may be changing, but real estate and construction workers remain in short supply. Whether you like it or not, you’re engaged in a war for construction talent, and it’s a battle you must win. What are some ways to do that?

Acknowledge that the worker shortage is reality, and make recruitment a key priority. Owners and managers at real estate and construction companies have a lot on their plates. All too often, they focus on short-term issues and daily demands. Consequently, long-term challenges like recruitment can take a backseat.

Even if they don’t currently face employee shortages, companies must make recruitment a strategic business priority. That can take many forms, including:

  • Active participation in job fairs
  • Building relationships with union and non-union trade schools
  • Frequent use of job boards, job sites and more
  • Partnering with vocational and high schools
  • Establishing paid apprenticeship programs
  • Offering high starting salaries and even bonuses to new workers whenever possible

Whatever your methods to attract construction talent, your efforts must be proactive and not reactive. Establish measurable programs and targets, and make it a point to keep yourself updated on progress over time. While many of these options are free, some (like apprenticeship programs) have a financial component. It’s best to talk to your construction CPA to make sure you fund such programs appropriately.

If your company doesn’t have in-house HR capabilities, align yourself with a capable and experienced provider of these services. They’ll have the capabilities, external relationships and bandwidth to set your company up for success in this hyper-competitive talent landscape.

Make sure they get a good start at your company. You can do a great job hiring your new employees. But they need  appropriate training to fully integrate into their daily roles and the company in general. Make sure your onboarding process includes a solid orientation into the company and its culture. Augment outside training with additional in-house training programs and initiatives as needed. Hard-skills training, for example, could include training on specific construction equipment or safety data sheet (SDS) training to help selected personnel determine reaction relations between chemicals. We also recommend soft-skills training for supervisors that includes a focus on basic leadership performance and emotional intelligence (EI).

Establish and nurture an environment of true employee engagement. Again, the war for construction talent is real. It’s paramount that company leaders – from owners and executives through management and colleagues – treat employees like the valued assets they are. That means integrating engagement best practices throughout your organization. Tools like stay interviews, continuing education courses and mentoring programs show you’re invested in your employees.

People today have real employment options. If you don’t make an effort to attract the right prospects, if employees aren’t welcomed and given the tools to succeed, and if workforce culture doesn’t measure up… construction talent will seek opportunities elsewhere.


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