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The #1 Issue Facing Construction Companies in 2017

An update to this article was published in 2019. Read it here. 

When we talk to construction company clients and ask them how it’s going, many of them say, “we are busy, but we can’t find the people we need to keep up with the work.” Their employees are nearing retirement, and finding younger workers is difficult. Experienced employees also find it difficult to train new hires.

In the past, if the companies had the work, they could hire experienced people, and ramp up their capacity very quickly – even if it meant raising the wages to attract the talent they needed. Today, with margins on jobs being so tight, companies just don’t have the flexibility to offer higher wages. Many believe that even if they did they still would have trouble staffing the right people.

What can we as an industry, and on an individual company level, do differently to continue to succeed?

Companies should focus on understanding what is available. And as Gen X and Baby Boomers are getting older, what is available is Millennials.

But construction isn’t being pursued by Millennials the way it was by older generations.

How did we get here? As a society, we told our children to go to college – that it was the best way to guarantee career success. This has ultimately diminished the pool of people who would have chosen to pursue trades like construction. Other companies are starting to get involved at the high school and even elementary schools in their area to raise the awareness of careers in their industry.

What can we do to attract Millennials to construction?

Provide a structured environment that supports their success.

Millennials crave the opportunity to grow and develop at their own pace. They do not want to feel held back when they are ready to take on more responsibility. Find ways they can take ownership of small projects, and once they master them, give them larger projects and more responsibility. They need to see the path from where they are to where they want to be, and what is required for success each step of the way.

Give feedback.

Millennials want to be coached at work. Overall, Millennials want feedback 50% more often than other employees. They grew up in the age of the internet and have grown accustomed to continuous and real-time feedback. Now, constant feedback doesn’t necessarily mean constant praise. Millennials are looking for ways to improve and understand what they’re already doing well. They need constructive criticism – not just constant applause.

At a minimum, setting up regular (and brief) one-on-one meetings between direct supervisors of team members can create the platform for this dialogue to happen. Once the dialogue is open these types of conversations may begin to happen naturally on an even more frequent basis without the need to schedule a meeting.

Create opportunities for mentorship, skills acquisition, mastery, and co-leadership.

Millennials want to take ownership of their skills as much as they do their projects. Companies that want to attract Millennials need to provide ample opportunities for employees to continue learning and master their craft.

Millennials want the opportunity to learn from someone with expertise and they want that to happen sooner rather than later. This can be done through co-leadership, being paired with a proven and experienced leader on a project, and slowly gaining ownership of projects.

Another way this can be done is through leadership programs. Employees strive to be chosen for these programs, and when they are, it creates a sense of honor for them. When they know the company wants to invest in them, it helps create an intrinsic motivation and feeling of value.

If you are able to get the right leadership inspiring your team, it sets you apart from your competition. It will not only allow your company to grow but will also be a natural succession plan for your business. Those you pinpoint as the key leaders will likely become the leaders who replace senior management when they retire.

To tackle many of these same issues, Blue & Co. developed its own internal leadership program several years ago, and just had its third class graduate from the 18-month program. If you’re interested, we would be happy to discuss the impact it has made on our culture and how we went about creating the program for our firm. 

Reinforce a sense of purpose.

Many studies have shown that Millennials crave purpose over paychecks. They aren’t driven by paychecks, they’re driven by a purpose of making the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable. They would rather take a pay cut to find work that matches their values and 90% want to use their skills for good. And those who are inspired by their companies and roles are almost three times more productive than dissatisfied employees.

How do you do this in construction? Every day you create safer and more efficient buildings, homes, improvements to people’s lives. The construction industry literally creates the building blocks of society. Tell that story. Share that value with your employees and prospects.

Help improve the lives of employees.

While this goal can be the most difficult to achieve, it also has the biggest impact on employee retention.

Health and wellness programs are a growing trend across all industries, and these are a key way companies can show they are invested in improving the lives of employees.

Encourage employees to speak up when they have family obligations or are struggling to deal with busy travel schedules – this encourages a sense of trust and respect between employer and employee.

This is just the beginning. There are many ways construction companies can appeal to Millennials. If you have questions about how to implement any of these practices into your company, please feel free to contact Stephen Mann at smann@blueandco.com.

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