Contractors are always complaining that they can’t find skilled people. We often hear complaints like: “You can’t find good people anymore”, or “None of these youngsters want to work these days”, or “I have a problem with my staff stealing”, or “My workers are so unreliable”, or “I can’t find skilled people” and more. I’m sure you’ve heard all the complaints, maybe you’ve even said some of these things. Of course sometimes they are true, although often they are generalisations and it’s only a few bad individuals.
Yet, many contractors and construction project managers have a set idea on who is employable in construction. Probably, ideally the person should have experience, they should be fit and healthy, probably young, and even in many cases a male. But are these always essential characteristics? Are we excluding many in this employment process that perhaps may be suitable? What we do know however is that we are including people who don’t always prove to be suitable.
I was fortunate to be born with no physical or mental disabilities. I was even more fortunate to come from a stable home where I had good influences and I was able to attend good schools. Yet, despite this good luck I’m sure I have my faults and shortcomings, and I’m sure I’ve messed up some opportunities and made a mess of a few things in my life.
Of course not everyone is as fortunate. By a stroke of bad luck something goes wrong with a person’s genes, or something influences development of the embryo, or there’s a problem during birth and the person has a mental or physical disability. These disabilities can range from relatively mild or even benign issues, to major problems that radically impact the person’s mobility and speech.
Unfortunately even those born without a disability can be impacted later in life. Some fall in with the wrong crowd, even serving prison time. Veterans suffer stress and trauma during active service. Motor vehicle accidents can change a person’s life in an instant. People suffer sickness which can drain them physically and financially. Life can be tough for some people.
So let’s look at construction employment practices in a bit more detail.
Firstly, those without construction experience are excluded. But where did we all start our construction careers – at the bottom when we had no experience. Some contractor put the time and trouble into training us and I think we mostly rewarded them for their efforts. Yet, many contractors are loath to train and mentor unskilled recruits, choosing rather to search for people in a shrinking skills pool.
Yet, paradoxically often older experienced people are excluded in the recruitment process. “He is too old”, or “He is too skilled for the job”, or “He is going to want too much money”. Why – how do you know these things? Why should contractors exclude an older experienced person? Surely if they are capable of doing the job we should be welcoming them?
Women are often excluded from construction jobs. Excuses include: “They’ll be unreliable”, or “They aren’t strong enough”, or “We will require additional toilets”, or “They’ll be a distraction on the project” or “They’ll always be talking”. So there we go excluding 50% of the population before we even start looking for people! Is every woman unsuitable for construction? Is every construction role unsuitable for a woman?
Some construction companies wouldn’t think to hire a homeless person. Just because they don’t have a place to call home and look dirty and dishevelled does not mean that they are on drugs, they drink excessively, they steal or that they’re lazy. Perhaps some are, but then some of the supposed ‘normal’ people that contractors hire are no different! Regrettably there are many who have suffered hardship or illness and have ended up losing their home, ending up on the streets. Some have been without a job for years. Is this reason not to employ them?
Then what about a disabled person. “Oh we can’t employ a disable person in construction it’s too dangerous”. Well not every disability is the same and not every job on a construction project demands the same skills. Many years ago we employed a person with a mental disability on a construction project. He walked a bit awkwardly, he was obviously a little slow mentally. He was desperate for a job and had been rejected by multiple companies. My construction project manager gave him a job as a general worker, and he turned out to be one of our best workers. He never missed a day, he arrived on time, he worked hard, and in fact he became an inspiration for all the ‘normal’ workers in the team who often worked harder because they didn’t want to be shown up by a disabled person. Most importantly he was just so pleased to get a job that he was incredibly loyal to the project manager and the company. Now recently I watched a television program about disabled people and the problems they have finding a job. Far too often we judge people by their appearances, what’s written on a piece of paper, and usually by our own perceptions of what normal is. Yet, most of these people just want a job, they don’t want to be dependent on the government or others for support. They usually understand their limitations. Many of them are enthusiastic and willing to work hard – they just need someone to give them a chance. Sure most are never going to be a star performer, or reach stellar career heights. But, what they are going to offer a company is loyalty, commitment, honesty, hard work, even enthusiasm, and often we don’t need more than that.
Then we have most companies who won’t hire ex-convicts. The excuses include: “Once a criminal always a criminal”, or “Our clients wouldn’t be happy to know we employ criminals”, or “We need honest people here”. Sure contractors do need honest employees – every company does. But, sometimes the people we hire who we thought were honest turn out to be dishonest! People do change and we’ve all done and said things in the past that we probably regret now. The justice system is there to both punish and reform people and the reform process isn’t going to work if the person can’t find an honest job after they’ve served their punishment. Sure, I’m not saying go out and employ every criminal on the street, I’m only saying be open to the idea of employing someone who has served time and who wants to change their life.
Conclusion - improving employment practices in construction
Many contractors have poor employment practices which leads them to employing the wrong people, or being unable to find people at all. We all discriminate in some manner, we all tend to pigeon hole people on their backgrounds, looks, race, age, gender, etc. But, in doing this are we excluding people who could fill a role perfectly on our construction project or elsewhere in the company? After all, what is the right person in construction?
So here’s a challenge for all you construction project and company managers!
When you start your next construction project, how about setting a goal to employ the following 6 people. Employ one person with a disability – physical or mental disability, it doesn’t matter. Employ one older person – someone over 50. Employ a homeless person. Employ a veteran. Employ at least one woman – and not in an office role. Employ at least one person who has no construction experience, someone that you plan to mentor and train. Of course if you can employ a homeless, disabled and elderly veteran, then all the better.
I believe that you may be surprised, you may just find that you’ve employed a hardworking, reliable and loyal individual. What have you got to lose? How often have you employed an individual that you thought was just right for the role, only to have them let you down when they turned out to be lazy, unreliable or dishonest?
Not everyone has been born lucky like most of us have been. Some have had tragedy, disability or a poor upbringing. Yet, many of these people aren’t looking for an excuse, they often understand their limitations, but all they are looking for is an opportunity to have a job and prove their worth. All they’re asking is a fair go. All we have to do is give them a fair chance, not just exclude them because of our prejudices, rather listen to them and see what they can offer your company and construction projects. Be open to new ideas and possibilities. Maybe even adjust and reorganise the construction project slightly. Of course the process requires buy in from the rest of the project team, who usually have their own preconceived ideas and prejudices. Everyone in the team needs to be open to giving new employees a fair opportunity. I believe that your construction company and projects will be well rewarded for your efforts.
What successes have you had when employing a disabled person, perhaps a homeless person or an ex-convict?
What are your thoughts on employing some of the people mentioned above?
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This article is adapted from information in the author’s popular books: 'Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide' and 'Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide' and 'Construction Project Management: Tips and Insights'
'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors' is another of Paul's useful books.
Paul has recently published 'Construction Management: From Project Concept to completion'.
Paul's new book: 'The Successful Construction Supervisor and Foreman' has more valuable information for contractors.
These books are available on Amazon and other online book stores.
Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website.
Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.
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The opinions expressed in the attached articles are those of the writer. It should be noted that projects are varied and different laws and restrictions apply which depend on the location of the contractor and the project. It's important that the reader uses the supplied information taking cognisance of their particular circumstances. The writer assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss of any kind arising from the reader using the information or advice contained herein.
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