In Overcoming the skills and worker shortage in construction - Part 1 I discussed how many parts of the world were experiencing a shortage of skilled construction workers. Contractors blamed poor project outcomes, including poor quality and low productivity, on a lack of skilled construction workers.
But is there really a shortage of workers, or are contractors simply not looking everywhere, and discarding potential workers because of their own biases? So in the previous article we discussed staff retention, training and uplifting people within the organisation, not discriminating or putting people in boxes, and importantly not presenting the wrong excuses why someone isn't suitable.
In this article I discuss other avenues of sourcing employable people. I also look at how the construction industry needs an image makeover, and this often starts by changing manager's thinking and attitudes.
#constructionskills #constructionworkers #constructioncareers
Think beyond your preconceptions of what a construction worker should be
Think outside the box, and beyond your preconceptions of what a construction worker should be. There are whole cohorts of people who many contractors discard as being unemployable. But have you really given them a fair chance to show what they can do? Let’s consider some of these groups.
Just because someone is poorly dressed and looks shabby and dirty, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a lazy bum, or a drug addict. Unfortunately there are many who have ended up on the streets due to no fault of themselves. Some have lost homes because of marriage breakups, poor financial decisions, change of circumstances, or family health problems that have sucked them financially dry. Of course there are some who have made poor decisions, gambled, or got sucked in by drug or opioid addiction. But many of these people have useful skills and could change their lives around if they were given the opportunity. Sure there will always be some homeless people that are unemployable, and there will be some who just don’t cut it, but then that’s probably the same with all people, even those who dress neatly, present well, and have a home.
“Most times you will be rewarded for your efforts with loyalty and gratefulness.”
So why don’t you give a homeless person a job, or better still get in touch with some of the organisations, and church groups, looking after the homeless and see if they have people who need a job. Sure there might be some extra work to help get the person on their feet so they can reliably get to work with a full stomach, but most times you will be rewarded for your efforts with loyalty and gratefulness. Of course you’re probably wondering why these homeless aren’t looking for work at your company door – but be honest, would they be allowed into your office and would you offer them a job. Anyway many homeless have become discouraged from looking for work and possibly don’t have the means to go door to door looking for work, or apply for jobs online.
The first thing I hear you say is construction is not a place for disabled people! Well there are a myriad of disabilities, many of which should not preclude the person from working in construction. There are also many disabled people who have overcome or managed their disabilities so that they are as capable as someone who isn’t disabled. It’s often not a person’s disability that prevents them from working on your project, rather it’s managers’ preconceptions about the abilities of a disabled person. We employed someone who had an intellectual disability. Sure he didn’t have the sharpest brain, but he was pleased to have a job, even as a manual labourer, and he worked harder than most, and he was loyal, trustworthy, and reliable. Do you need more? I’m sure with time and effort he would have moved on to basic carpentry or similar. Having an intellectual disability doesn’t mean the person is stupid. There are however many people who supposedly don’t have an intellectual disability who are stupid. In fact we probably all do stupid things from time to time.
I recently read of an electrician who lost a thumb in a work accident. He was desperate to return to work, but his disability was given as a reason to not employ him. Now I’ve never read a job advertisement with a requirement that the prospective candidate must have 2 thumbs. I’ve seen a person with 1 hand perform tasks as skilfully as someone with 2 hands. I’ve also seen people with all their fingers and thumbs produce substandard work.
In Australia 54% of disabled people are unemployed and many who are employed are underemployed. This program is achieving success for both the new disabled employees and the companies employing them.
Be willing to give people a chance, and think honestly what’s required to do the job you’re offering. Maybe you can even move people around within your organisation, moving an able-bodied person into the position you need filling, and employing someone who’s disabled in the vacated role. So why not consider approaching organisations that help the disabled. There are millions of people desperate for work who aren’t provided the opportunity, and excluded because they don’t fit the profile of what contractors think a construction worker should be. They are desperate to work, to not be dependent on others and the government, and your company is desperate for workers. Surely there’s mutual benefit? Even this State Emergency Service has place for disabled people and they are a valuable resource.
“The biggest barrier in employing disabled people is often not their disabilities, but rather the closed minds of employers”
The biggest barrier in employing disabled people is often not their disabilities, but rather the closed minds of employers not willing to give someone the opportunity to show what they can do for the company.
Shock and horror – who would employ an ex-con? Well they’ve done their time, so do they deserve to be punished further by being unemployable? In fact as long as they don’t have a job they risk turning back to crime to survive and pay their bills. No, not every person who has served jail time is a gang member, drug addict, or serial offender. Many ended in jail through bad circumstances, poor choices when they were younger, desperation for food, or perhaps simply because they didn’t have the money to hire a good lawyer, or the means to settle a monetary fine.
Everyday there are hundreds of prisoners being released from jail. Some of them had construction skills before they went to prison, while some have been taught skills while they were doing their time. Sure you might not want to employ rapists, murderers, and serial offenders, but there are many ex-cons who were never serious criminals and who will be grateful to be offered a stable job. Of course there are also some who were wrongly convicted of serious crimes. Get in contact with the prison authorities and see if there are ex-prisoners who can help your company, and you’ll be helping them and society.
Refugees and migrants.
There are numerous newly arrived refugees and migrants struggling to find work, possibly not understanding the systems, or fully conversant in the language. Many of them are skilled. Talk to those helping refugees and migrants and see if there are new arrivals requiring work. Sure there may be problems with language, and they may need extra help and attention. But most will reward their new employer with loyalty and hard work. There’s a whole pool of qualified and experienced construction people who are driving Ubers, and doing less skilled work. Just because a person doesn’t have work experience in your country doesn’t mean that they aren’t experienced and knowledgeable. See this report of a pool of wasted talent, while contractors are desperate for people.
“Reconsider your view of what a construction worker should look like.”
Now I’m not saying that you must fill your construction project with disabled people, ex-cons, and the homeless. Rather have an open mind when looking for employees and explore other avenues of recruitment. Reconsider your view of what a construction worker should look like. Understand the personal traits that really benefit the company, which is probably loyalty, hard work, pride in one’s work, honesty, and a willingness to learn.
Of course, just because someone is desperate for work, or pleased to be offered a job, it doesn’t mean that you should exploit them and cheat them from a fair wage. Nor should your company employ illegal migrants.
Offer opportunities to people doing construction training
At the end of the college year students look for vacation work experience. Sure it’s usually only for a month or 2. But this experience is often essential for their studies. They typically don’t have to be paid much. I found employing these students useful. A student who enjoyed working for the company was often keen to seek full time employment with the company at the end of their studies. But this short introduction was also an opportunity for us to evaluate the students and decide if we wanted to employ them once they were qualified. But anyway, there were normally always tasks that the students could accomplish which helped our regular staff.
Frequently there are hundreds of apprentices doing training. Part of their training requires them to work with a company to get practical on the job training. Again I found employing apprentices in training useful. They are usually paid fairly low wages, yet if used properly many contributed to our projects. Again, treated well and the apprentices were keen to work for us once they gained their qualification, while we had the opportunity to know who were the best apprentices to employ fulltime when qualified.
“Offering opportunities to people in training helped them, it benefitted our company and projects, and importantly, it also increased the pool of skilled and experienced people to the industry – wins all round.”
In all of this we were contributing to the construction industry, helping people gain their qualifications.
Employing newly qualified people on your construction projects
Many construction companies are loath to take on newly qualified recruits. They rely on finding experienced qualified people in the market. Well often experienced qualified people aren’t readily available. We all started somewhere with no experience, but fortunately some company and manager invested time and effort into training us, and giving us the necessary experience. And I would like to think we rewarded the company handsomely for this opportunity.
This is a topic close to my heart and I’ve always trained and developed those in my team, and it’s yielded great dividends for me and the company. I’ve written several articles including Training and mentoring in construction
So put the word out with construction academies and colleges that your company is always willing to employ newly qualified trades people and construction management students. Maybe you can get the pick of the best students.
Come on, do your bit and train the next generation. I’m not saying fill your project with construction newbies, but rather take a considered approach to employing some newly qualified people on every project, and pairing them with experienced and skilled people who can share and pass on their knowledge to the next generation of construction workers. And who knows, maybe some of the experienced construction professionals can even learn something new from those newly qualified recruits.
Using technology in the construction industry
It’s going to be many years yet before we can dispense with people in construction. Unfortunately technology cannot make a poor project manager good, and it cannot turn a mediocre carpenter into a skilled craftsman. But the right technology used properly can help good project managers and good carpenters be more effective in their jobs, producing more. The right technology used by competent people can reduce the number of people required on the project.
“The younger generation expect to use the latest technology and they’ll shun industries that are slow to use modern technology.”
Importantly though, the younger generation expect to use the latest technology and they’ll shun industries that are slow to use modern technology. Technology in Construction.
Improving working conditions for all in the construction industry
The culture in many companies has to change. Workplaces need to be all inclusive. Bullying and discrimination must not be condoned. Is There Bullying on Your Construction Projects? There are basic issues that must be put in place, like providing adequate clean toilet and change facilities for women. Here is what some women face.
The construction industry needs to move away from hiring and firing. I know it’s hard when contractors go from feast to famine. It’s frequently hard to keep people employed. The easy option is to fire people at the end of the project. Unfortunately this leads to a loss of talent, not only for your company, but to the industry as a whole, as often people move to a more stable job in another industry, even if that means taking a pay cut. It also leads to poor loyalty and productivity – who wants to be loyal and hardworking when the reward is you’re going to be fired anyway when the construction project is finished? In my 30 year career I went through numerous downturns, yet we managed to keep a core of good workers through the hard times. It meant that when the good times came back we still had a core of good skills and loyal workers to take on the new projects. And good workers made money for us during the downturn when project profit margins were tight to non-existent. Sometimes in lean times we were able to transfer workers to other company division who had work, and even on occasions got them temporarily employed with another company. In the worst cases we sent them home on half pay for a couple of months – which was expensive but we kept our pool of talent alive. Of course our workers weren’t stupid and they appreciated that we were doing everything not to fire them when work opportunities were scarce, because their friends in other companies were losing their jobs. So in the long run the company was rewarded.
Contractors need to be more adaptive. Being more flexible when it comes to working hours and working conditions. Another interesting article Construction's career crisis: Can the industry attract millennials and Gen Z?
Encourage those that have left your company to return
Every contractor has lost people – many of them skilled and experienced. They may have retired, moved to another industry, taken time off to travel, or gone to another contractor. Hopefully they parted on good terms and you didn’t burn bridges. Make contact with your ex-employees and see who would like to come back to work – even if it’s just for 1 more project or maybe a few months. Perhaps it’s only a few days a week. How can you use their skills and experience and pair them with less experienced managers and workers?
This is all wasted if your team is not with you
Employing disabled people, women, ex-cons, isn’t going to work if your managers and supervisors are going to reject them, or discriminate against them, or your teams are going to bully and ridicule them.
Working conditions will not improve unless your team helps you make it happen. New technology will fail if there’s no buy in from the team or it’s not used correctly.
Solving the construction skills shortage
Is there really a shortage of skills in the construction industry? Is there a shortage of construction workers? Maybe it’s just because you aren’t looking in all the places and considering all the pools of unemployed people? Maybe it’s because you lack imagination, or have an outdated perception of what a construction worker should look like? Maybe it’s because you aren’t prepared to train and mentor the next generation – rather content to poach experienced people with ever higher salaries from other contractors, and when this doesn’t work blame the lack of good people on a skill shortage.
“Would the industry be in its current position if we were more inclusive and adaptive?”
The construction industry needs a makeover. It needs a change of image. Sure I started my career 35 years ago. Then it was entirely male. It was strictly segregated. We were expected to work 100 plus hour fortnights. I swore with the best of them. I survived. But how many good people were discouraged or physically excluded from working in the industry over the years. Indeed many of us said we wouldn’t encourage our children to go into construction. Fortunately with time the industry has changed, but not enough. Would the industry be in its current position if we were more inclusive and adaptive?
We need to be showcasing the industry to the next generation. See this article New TV show to highlight the benefits of work in the trades. for ideas. And this program Women who weld program for schoolgirls. We need to demonstrate that there are good jobs waiting to be filled in construction. To show that there is a future for all in the industry. That contractors are willing to train people. That construction is a safe place where people are respected. Not like how this apprentice was treated by his fellow workers and boss!
“Solving the skills and worker shortage in construction is in your hands – stop the excuses and make the changes.”
There is always going to be a skills and worker shortage in construction unless contractors get out there and make the required changes. Take an active approach to train and mentor people. Rethink and reimagine your perceptions of what the people working on your projects should look like, what experience they need, and importantly what tasks they should do. Ensure that all construction workers are treated fairly and with respect. Solving the skills and worker shortage in construction is in your hands – stop the excuses and make the change. Get you team on board and make the change. The construction industry is on a downward slope of poor productivity and bad quality unless there’s change.
We can’t solve the construction skills shortage overnight, but we won’t solve it by complaining and doing nothing.
#constructionmanagement #constructionprojectmanagement #constructionindustry
Other useful articles
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Why is there poor productivity on your construction project?
When project managers should ask for help
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