The construction industry is in the midst of a battle for top talent. Client demands, skilled labor shortages and the ever-changing workforce landscape have required companies to adapt new strategies for attracting and retaining construction professionals at every level. Embracing these new approaches is often easier said than done, given the current economic uncertainty, the aging population of baby boomers, and the pandemic which all contribute to a smaller labor pool. Every construction role, from skilled trade workers to project management to executive leadership, is becoming more challenging to find. It’s important to benchmark your benefit packages, training, and other company perks on a consistent basis to ensure you remain competitive in the market.
Not only is finding highly qualified candidates a challenge, but keeping them can also be an uphill battle at times. The construction industry has a notoriously high turnover rate, which impacts all facets of the business and stems from reasons that can’t always be easily solved for. Despite everyone’s best efforts, retention is an all-too-common struggle that can leave you feeling exhausted and uncertain. This is why it is critical for employers to have the right hiring and retention strategies, especially in the extremely competitive construction market.
Job openings remain stubbornly high despite the industry raising hourly pay at an elevated rate to stay competitive with market demands. Holding steady at about 9.6 million open jobs, the separation rate is at a constant high rate, too, demonstrating just how difficult it is to recruit employees from other firms. It’s important to keep in mind that every person has unique motivators, and recruiters should target talent whose perspectives align with the company’s vision, ensuring a higher chance of retention.
Here are some foundational ideas for construction companies to employ when addressing the issue of workforce hiring and retention.
Clearly Identify Your Hiring Needs
Making the right hire upfront can ease many issues related to retention. The process begins with hiring managers determining what roles they need and defining the ideal profiles for each. Working in partnership with Human Resources and recruiting teams, managers can help shape the role description and build appropriate timelines to meet current and future business needs. Having these clear guidelines from the beginning also saves recruiters precious time with their candidate searches. As I often tell my leadership teams, “You wouldn’t send your spouse or child to the grocery store without knowing what they are looking for,” so ensuring your HR and recruiting teams have the equivalent of a grocery list is key to finding the right employees. It is absolutely essential to differentiate between “need to haves” and “nice to haves” candidate qualifications. Not every applicant will meet every job qualification, so the recruiter must be keenly aware of ensuring the candidates they pass along to the hiring manager meets their “need to haves” list.
Once the position’s needs are clearly outlined, it is helpful to have a rigorous recruiting process in place to ensure the right employees are chosen. Whether using in-house recruiters or outside recruiting agencies, these individuals must be transparent and honest with candidates from the very first interaction. This means clearly communicating your company’s value proposition and allowing ample time for them to ask questions about the position, the culture, and the people.
With that “needs” list in hand, recruiters can assess a candidate’s skill set with some basic technical questions and gain a deeper understanding of their professional experience. This is critical for roles within Estimating, Project Management, and Field Operations. A candidate may have worked for an excellent company or been involved in big projects, but it is important to have a clear understanding of what their specific responsibilities included. Recruiters should ask probing questions to gain a better understanding of a candidate’s true experience and provide an informed and comprehensive summary to the hiring manager.
Another critical component of finding the right candidate moves beyond just the technical skills. Organizations may also employ assessments to ensure a candidate is a strong fit for the role and possesses unique and diverse strengths and experiences that they could bring to the team. Some companies use proprietary software for this, and some use online tools such as Myers Briggs or DISC assessment. Each of these types of assessments can have great impact when used consistently as part of the hiring process. Lastly, ensure that recruiters are requesting and obtaining feedback from both hiring managers and candidates throughout the interview process, as it will provide invaluable insights and help further refine your recruitment strategies.
Encourage ESOP Status as Benefit to Talent
Engaging with leadership is a big part of the culture in companies structured as Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), which encourages a strong sense of pride and ownership among employees. A growing number of companies in the construction industry are realizing the benefits of being an ESOP. Values, excitement, passion, and the feeling of being part of a high-performing team all help sell the opportunity to candidates, and those attributes are a significant advantage for ESOP-run companies.
An ESOP offers a variety of benefits to both prospective and current employees. It provides an added retirement benefit that can be an effective tool to attract and retain talent, with share value growing year-over-year. In most ESOPs, the most significant financial benefits go to those employees with the longest tenure, contributing to employee retention. The non-financial benefits of the ESOP are also appealing to employees, as ESOP fosters an environment of collaboration and innovation, encouraging employee-owners to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to the table.
Understand that Safety Records Matter
Safety should already be a top priority for any construction company. Having a robust and safety-focused culture is another benefit that makes for an appealing workplace for top candidates. Safety protocols at a job site are usually the first thing that most construction professionals think about when it comes to well-being, but it’s crucial to provide other holistic wellness programs to team members. Our team members work incredibly hard, and making sure that we offer benefits that support their mental, emotional, and financial well-being helps differentiate us as an employer of choice. A strong safety program helps demonstrate how much the company values and cares about your employees’ overall well-being, which attracts new employees and helps support retention.
Creatively Recruit Entry-level Employees
With the competition for employees in our industry, construction companies need to invest in creating a game-ready, junior talent pipeline. Start developing relationships with local high schools and community, technical, and four-year college, or master’s degree program. Attend their career days and job fairs and get active in campus recruiting. Offer summer internships and consider making them rotational programs to expose students to all aspects of the business. Diversifying the sources of candidates is crucial, and referrals are often one of the best sources of talent. Online platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed, and attendance at professional events are also tapped into for networking and recruitment purposes.
Offer Ongoing Training Opportunities
It goes without saying that training is an attractive benefit to candidates. While safety should always be one component of ongoing training opportunities, training should go beyond safety into other personal and professional growth areas. Demonstrating a consistent commitment to training is attractive to both prospective and current employees. Skills development is a continuous process, so leaders should work with each of their team members to focus on learning from the past with a laser focus on the future.
When considering different training needs for your team, use the principle of the Three E’s: experience, education, and exposure, and strive to have all three types of training options available to your employees. Adults typically learn through hands-on experiences, which is certainly the case in the construction industry. Working alongside an experienced mentor or having a formal apprenticeship can yield amazing results. For specific skill-building, there are some great on-demand platforms, such as LinkedIn Learning, which can nurture and further training in a self-paced manner. For many, it’s a combination of both formal and informal training that keeps people engaged and growing. The bottom line is that employees want to remain in an environment where they feel valued and compelled to stay.
Workforce retention in the construction industry goes beyond competitive salaries. It’s about creating an environment where employees are valued, engaged, and motivated. By focusing on transparent communication, skills development, leadership involvement, and understanding individual motivators, construction companies can nurture talent that stays and grows with them, ensuring long-term success in an ever-evolving industry.
About the Author
Pamela Desmond is a Human Resources professional who currently leads the HR department at Schimenti. Her team focuses on attracting and retaining top talent, aligning with Schimenti’s core value of “People Are Our Foundation.” She has played a key role in building Schimenti’s exceptional team and recruiting industry leaders to help advance the company’s mission of raising the customer service standard in the construction industry to Build Different.