A few decades ago, recruiting craft professionals was pretty straightforward: All you had to do was contact the local union hall, put in a call for craftworkers from the bench and quickly form a crew.
Things have changed. Since the 1980s, the construction industry has undergone a steady decline in its attractiveness as a profession. The Great Recession claimed thousands of craft jobs, and many of those men and women found other careers. Today, the average craft professional is in his or her late 40s, and many are closing in on retirement. The need to replace them is imminent.
How can the industry tackle this problem? First, we must be willing to get more involved in regional and national recruiting efforts as well as the training and retention of a high-quality craft workforce. But there are many ways to attack this issue.
It’s time to step up our investments in high school programs that draw students who are interested in learning a craft. Many teenagers are unclear about their futures but certain that college is not their best choice. Investing in high school career and technical education programs that focus on construction is a good step toward bringing new talent into the industry. The ACE Mentor Program exposes students to our industry and helps them form positive impressions about it.
Let’s increase our presence at career days and get into classrooms for presentations. We have to place craftworkers in front of students and show them that construction can be a viable, lifelong career. A recent Associated General Contractors of America survey showed that our industry will be short two million craft professionals by the year 2020. Good jobs are out there waiting to be filled. Craft work can pay well and deliver the satisfaction of a job well done.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average student at a two-year college is 28 years old, and 62% of those men and women are working a part-time job. Those students are searching for a career direction: They have been in the workforce, they haven’t liked what they saw, and they are curious about where to go next.
That presents a prime opportunity for us, as builders, to get involved with these colleges by offering our experts as instructors for craft training programs. We can provide curriculum input to help ensure that technical and community college students are acquiring the skills we’re seeking. Let’s also create a pipeline to bring craft professionals into the educational mix, giving them the training they need to become supervisors and project managers.
Social Media Opportunities
Establishing strong, positive brands on social media is another key to recruiting success.
The best recruiters are creating Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to let their followers know about company job openings. Craft professionals are active on social media, often turning there for job opportunities instead of specific firm sites. Posting jobs on social media also allows recruiters to communicate directly with their audience and answer questions about the job openings.
A strong social media presence also provides an opportunity to showcase projects and company culture, giving potential employees the chance to learn more about the firm before they walk into the office or onto a jobsite. Now is the time to work with your marketing department to develop or revamp your social media strategy to increase workforce activity and recruiting.
In many sectors, craftworker benefits are limited. Firms need to improve benefits and use them as part of a competitive compensation package to recruit and retain talent. This tactic also will improve the image of our industry. Health-care coverage, paid time off and defined-contribution retirement benefit plans are among the options that create long-term stability for craftworkers and motivate them to remain with a specific employer or within the industry.
Contractors spend many hours and lots of money recruiting, onboarding and training craft professionals. This process isn’t only time-consuming and expensive; it also means we sometimes field crews that haven’t worked together. Creating continuity and teamwork through employee longevity makes a huge difference in ensuring safe, predictable outcomes in the field.
We need to support advanced skill development to improve productivity in our industry. Craftworkers could be offered the opportunity to train for their NCCER-Plus certification. Encouraging and supporting employees to pursue career advancement boosts employee loyalty and assures a highly skilled workforce.
On a national level, several large contractors have joined forces to improve marketing construction as a career and develop partnerships with local craft training groups and community colleges. These efforts require a commitment of time and resources as well as participation by companies seeking long-term change in our craft-talent pipeline.
Some universities—for example, Arizona State University’s Del E. Webb School of Construction—are leading the push for brand enhancement, recruitment, training-program coordination and placement. While this is not traditionally the role of higher education, it could help to coordinate the industry’s currently fractured approach.
Our workforce shortage has been many years in the making, and a solution will require a long-term commitment. As contractors, we must invest in solving our own problem. Each of us should ask, “Is my company doing enough to create positive future outcomes for the workforce pipeline in our industry?”
If not, then I challenge you to get more involved and adopt these strategies as essential elements in raising the attractiveness of construction as a career.