Construction companies around the world are complaining about a shortage of people, and in particular a shortage of skilled people. The war for talent: How contractors battle for workers. In fact contractors blame poor quality, late completion, low productivity, increasing costs, and poor project performance on a lack of skills. Is this true? If it is, how can contractors improve the situation?
The construction skills shortage seems to be worsening. Construction is perceived as a dirty and unsafe industry, where people are expected to work long hours for sometimes low wages. Indeed construction has a poor reputation which deters new entrants. Making the problem worse is the transitory nature of construction. Many construction companies dump their workers when a project is completed, with little reward for hard work or loyalty. Countless workers have no job security and know that once their project is complete they must start looking for another job. After a few cycles of this it’s no wonder that good skilled people leave the industry and move on.
Older skilled workers are retiring while the younger generation doesn’t appear interested in a career in construction.
Yet despite this outcry of a lack of skills some construction companies are doing little to retain the skilled people they have. They are certainly doing little to improve the image of the construction industry, and few contractors seem willing to upskill their workforce, or employ newly qualified people and train and mentor them. Nor do contractors think innovatively for new sources of people. It all seems too hard for the average contractor, who seems content rather to use the lack of resources as an excuse for poor construction project outcomes. After all, if there’s not a suitable experienced and qualified person waiting on the street corner for a job it must mean that there is a shortage of workers in construction!
So how can construction companies improve the skills shortage? Well here are a few suggestions
Tips to overcoming the construction skills shortage
It’s pointless employing new people to fill gaps when they don’t stay long, and others in the organisation leave, creating more gaps. Some contractors are in a perpetual cycle of filling voids left by people leaving the company. A cycle that can’t be won unless you take proactive steps to retain people. Now retaining people is a topic on its own which I’ve previously covered in several articles: How do we retain skilled employees in construction? and High Employee turnover? The sooner you know the better.
So, start by retaining good people in your company and project. #staffretention
Is your company a good place to work?
Linked to the above is the question, ‘is your company a good place to work?’ If it isn’t then you are going to find it harder to attract people to your company and project. And when several contractors are fighting to employ the same person, if your company isn’t the employer of choice then the limited talent will go elsewhere. So honestly ask yourself, ‘is your company a good place to work?’ But not in your position, a role where you may enjoy particular perks and advantages, but rather in the position you are recruiting for. So if it’s a carpenter, supervisor, foreman, or whatever, how would a carpenter, supervisor, foreman, view your company, your project, compared to other contractors, and even other industries? Is the position and role your company is offering better than elsewhere? Learn to see your company as others see it.
Ask prospective employees what they’re looking for in an employer and you’ll probably find that it’s not only about the best salary. People are generally looking for a company that values and respects them, they want some job security, of course they want a safe place to work, and a fair wage. People want to work for good managers and successful companies. Again this is a topic on its own, and I’ve written several articles on this including Is There Bullying on Your Construction Projects and Respect in construction - why it's important
Ensure your company is a great place to work, where people want to work.
Look within the company for people to fill the role
Some contractors overlook people already working within the company. Is there someone within the organisation that can fill the position? Maybe they just need to be offered the role, and perhaps some extra training? Sure they may leave a vacancy where they are currently working – but maybe it will be easier to fill their position? In promoting someone within the company you’ll be rewarding the person, for which they’ll be grateful, and others within the organisation will see that there are prospects within the company to advance, grow, and take on new responsibilities and roles.
When I became the general manager of a new division/branch of our company, in 5 years we grew the division by 8 fold, also increasing profits 8 fold, and this was almost done entirely without employing new management. We were able to find and promote people from within our organisation to fill the additional roles of foremen, project managers, and directors.
Ask your project managers, supervisors, foremen, managers, is there someone they know working for them who can fill the position that’s needed. Sometimes managers have to be coaxed to put forward good people working for them, knowing that they are going to have a hole in their team, so it’s important for managers to realise that it’s for the benefit of the company, as well as the person they are releasing.
So start your search amongst those already working for the company, before spreading your search wider. You may be surprised at the talent hiding in plain sight within your company.
Who knows who
You’re looking for people – have you asked your employees if they know someone who wants to work for the company – a friend or relative? I’ve sometimes had success this way. If friends and relatives of employees want to work for your company it usually means that your company is an attractive place to work, because your employees are willing to recommend to their friends and relatives to come and work where they are employed.
Even ask your subcontractors, clients, suppliers, and the professional team. Spread the word that you're looking for people. If your client, project team, or subcontractors think that your company is a professional outfit with good managers they'll recommend your company as a good place to work. A contractor that is looking to employ people now.
Do your employees know you are searching for people?
You cannot afford to discriminate
Unfortunately many of us have biases towards people, which may be conscious or even unconscious. So we are apt to put people in boxes and exclude them from certain jobs without even knowing their skills or experience. People are simply excluded from a job based on their race, colour, sex, even on how they dress or look, perhaps even excluding an overweight person on the premise that they must be lazy.
Some automatically allocate people of a certain nationality to a particular job, assuming all Irish, or New Zealanders, or Mexicans, are only good at a particular task, and disregarding them for an alternative position. What nonsense! Construction is desperate for good people, who cares what they look like or where they come from, as long as they are willing to work and have the right skills employ the person and don’t hold them back for any reason other than they can’t do the job. Again this is a topic that I’ve previously written about Discrimination in construction – is it holding your company back?
Are you excluding a large portion of the population from your search because of your biases?
Drop the excuses
There are some perennial excuses that companies use not to employ someone looking for work. Let’s consider how stupid some of these are!
Are your excuses for not employing someone valid, or are you simply regurgitating time worn excuses? Do you even know why you don’t employ some candidates?
To be continued
In my next article I discuss how you can cast your search wider, and how construction needs an image makeover to attract the next generation of construction workers.
#constructioncareers #contractors #constructionindustry
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H S Tandaveshwara
24/11/2021 11:04:30 am
Fantastic article explaining threadbare of the construction Industry. Congratulations. I am from Bangalore India with 43 years of Construction Management experience and Industry doesn't want people like us who are hale and healthy and ready to work 12 hrs , 5 days a week . Sitting at home . When bloody politicians can rule a country even after 80 years , compared to them we are still youth !!!
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