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Your second construction manager in nine months just gave their notice. They said they are leaving for better pay, better hours, better benefits, or better advancement opportunities. When trade personnel leave a company, there is often a gaping hole to fill. What’s more, the popularity of America’s skilled trade careers has been in steady decline for the past few generations. That’s why employee procurement and retention efforts within the construction industry are vital components of every business’ success and can dramatically affect your bottom line.
Recruiting and hiring the ideal trade professionals goes hand-in-hand with employee retention. Every industry is plagued with its own set of challenges surrounding hiring and retaining skilled employees. And the construction industry is no exception.
Carly Schwieters, strategic growth and marketing at Schwieters Companies, says that when it comes to attracting and recruiting talent, Schwieters pitches their compensation and benefits packages, company culture, and training and mentorship program. They also encourage their carpenters to tap into their personal networks for referrals.
“We’re constantly maintaining and growing relationships with high schools and trade schools where we can connect with future candidates, and we’ve partnered with a European recruiting firm that specializes in placing experienced carpenters with employers in the US,” Schwieters says.
The emphasis on employee retention is so important in the trades for two different reasons: training investment and productivity.
As Megan Blakeborough, workforce development specialist at Lyman Companies explains, once the employee and company partner in training and skills acquisition, it’s very costly to retrain to close that skills gap with a new hire.
“The most productive workforce is experienced, engaged, and well trained. With the workforce dynamics today, there are more open jobs than candidates. We love our people and want them to grow with us,” Blakeborough says. “We have a defined progression for each role that we hire, and successful candidates can expect to earn more as they learn and conquer the next challenge.”
Kirk Van Slooten, senior construction manager at Elevation Homes agrees. “Today if you lose an employee or a subcontractor, they are very hard to replace. It’s better to work on improving the people you already have a relationship with then to try and start over.”
For Lyman Companies, their corporate culture plays a pivotal role in employee retention. Beginning with the way they treat new team members from the first day, Lyman Companies commits to its people—they invest in them early, and often throughout their onboarding process, and as their career progresses. “We want to provide them challenges that help them learn and grow with us. We strive to be a great place to work for, to buy from, and to own,” Blakeborough says.
As part of their recruitment process, Lyman Companies also has established several key relationships with tech colleges. Individuals from Lyman sit on advisory committees, participate in career fairs, and network with faculty and students.
“They look to us to help provide feedback. Part of that relationship with schools is being of support for them in providing sound advice, industry knowledge, and career opportunities for their students,” Blakeborough says.
Van Slooten also serves on the Education and Workforce Development Committee at Housing First Minnesota, and he and his team reach out to young people at the high school level about the opportunities in construction.
“As part of that, we are participating in a skills USA mentor program—the high schools put together teams that will be demonstrating their building skills at the Builders and Remodelers Show this coming February at the Minneapolis Convention Center,” Van Slooten says.
In addition to the relationships they’ve established with various tech schools, Blakeborough finds that company culture and opportunity are the biggest factors in recruitment and retention.
“We talk a lot about our values. Immediately, when candidates walk into an office, the shop, or on a job site it’s important they instantly feel welcomed and at home,” Blakeborough says. “We want them to share in our sense of purpose and our business values. We like to share with candidates and employees the values we live are real—we hire and promote people based on our values.”
Schwieters Companies also works closely with instructors and is actively involved in advisory committees across several school systems. This allows the company to be part of the dialogue on course curriculum and provides the company’s take on any shifts or trends in the market that might inform that curriculum.
“Knowing budgets are limited, we provide schools with materials that afford students the hands-on experience that is vital to their success,” Schwieters says. “We connect with students in the classroom and at our facilities, where we host tours that provide insight and a first-hand look at our operation.”
It is projected that 41% of the current construction workforce will retire by 2031, according to the National Center for Construction Education & Research, so recruitment of trade professionals is essential for the industry.
“It’s alarming—more than 21% [of construction workers] are over 55 years old,” Van Slooten says. “Young people seem to think college is their only choice and while that’s good, it’s not for everybody. We need to get the message out that there are good jobs with good pay in the construction industry.”
Because of this mindset, Lyman Companies is moving upstream to focus more on high schools and even middle schoolers—letting them know that they don’t have to go to college to have a wonderful career.
“If it’s not for them,” Blakeborough says. “We have so many opportunities now and well into the future.”