How to Hire Top Talent Despite the Construction Labor Shortage

By: on July 18, 2018

The construction industry is booming. One recent outlook report predicted that construction spending would increase by 7 percent in 2018, nearly double the rise seen in 2017.

And yet, businesses are frustrated.

What’s the problem? There just isn’t enough skilled labor. A National Association of Home Builders survey found that 82 percent of its members rank the cost and availability of labor as their biggest problems.

This is a big issue for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) that struggle to attract top talent to keep pace with larger firms.

SMBs often have to resort to cheaper, lower-skilled workers, which means projects take longer and cost more. And construction managers sometimes have to bring in pricey subcontractors because they don’t have the qualified workers to do the job, which is detrimental to the bottom line.

SMB construction firms that hire unskilled workers with great potential and then invest in their training and growth will be able to overcome the challenges presented by the current labor shortage far better than competitors.

The Problem With Only Hiring Skilled Workers

We surveyed small construction firms to learn their greatest pain points, and the results were eye-opening. The number one problem listed was the fact that businesses had to turn down jobs because there’s more work than the company can staff (53 percent of respondents).

This problem has a profound impact on current projects that are overly reliant on these skilled workers, as they grind to a halt when the worker is suddenly unavailable (e.g., they’re sick, or took another job). Case in point: The next biggest challenge cited (52 percent) was “delayed or stalled jobs from workers becoming unavailable mid-project.”

Given this, how can you bolster your staff so you can take on more jobs and boost your bottom line?

Fix the Construction Labor Shortage Using Unskilled Workers in Two Steps

Believe it or not, you as a construction manager have the power to deal with this problem right away. Small businesses must hire unskilled workers and use training to solve the problem of a skilled labor shortage—and it’s a lot simpler than you think.

After identifying workers who would be passed over by larger firms but are highly trainable and eager to learn, you can use a few simple training methods to help you get new workers quickly up to speed.

Step 1: Know How to Find Unskilled Workers With the Most Potential

First you’ve got to find the right kind of person. This person will be eager and hungry to learn—a lump of clay that you can mold into a fantastic team contributor. There are a few ways you can find this person.

When you post the job opening, ask specifically that people with little to no experience apply, but ask that they be “eager to learn.” You want to avoid having people who are more skilled and thus will expect higher pay to apply for the job, wasting both your time and theirs.

Before you begin your search, throw out your preconceived notions about what this type of person will be. Instead, look for the following traits when you interview candidates:

They’re unskilled: This may seem obvious, but resist the temptation to bring in that candidate with a few years of experience. Even if that individual does agree to work for less than he or she normally would because of some temporary desperation for income, they’re more likely to be unsatisfied and quit after a short time on the job.

They’re enthusiastic: This person should be chomping at the bit to start working for you. They can talk endlessly about why they’re attracted to the construction business. They want to start yesterday. They make you sit up a little to match their energy. They’re interested in your company.

They’re loyal: During the interview process, ask them how they’ve learned and grown in organizations in the past. Have they stuck around with organizations for a few years? Have they pursued a degree, or taken on some other type of activity to advance their careers?

They’ve shown initiative in the past: You’ll need a go-getter, so during the interview, toss them the common interview question about problems they’ve encountered in the past and pay attention closely to how they describe solving them. They should be able to talk in detail—and enthusiastically—about obstacles they’ve overcome.

Step 2: Know How to Train Your Unskilled Workers

Now that you’ve got that lump of clay, it’s time to fashion it into the ideal worker. Your goal should be not only to increase your new employee’s skills to an acceptable level, but to create an environment where he or she can grow and become loyal to your company. There are two key parts to this approach:

1. Provide on-the-job training, or sign them up for formal training

On-the-job training is the best way to turn a new, unskilled worker into an indispensable asset. Not only does it provide them with vital new skills, but it also helps them learn how your construction site operates and how you do things, which is something even skilled workers have to learn when joining your operation.

To accelerate training, have new unskilled workers shadow skilled workers so they can learn the ins and outs of each task.

Of course, doing training in-house may be a big undertaking for a small or midsize business. An alternative is to consider signing them up for classes and training, or creating your own structured training program.

A more detailed and formal training environment will help your employees even more, particularly for more skilled positions. Contact a local community college or the Department of Labor to ask about setting up an apprenticeship program, which can often involve in-class learning in addition to on-the-job training. They will help you create a program.

You can also reach out to other businesses or trade schools that provide this training if you don’t want to do it yourself. The Department of Labor has resources for helping with this as well.

Classes can be expensive, costing hundreds of dollars in some cases. But remember how much you’re saving hiring unskilled labor. Re-investing some of that money into those workers can quickly get them up to speed in the areas they need to excel in.

2. Use mobile training technology

Modern technology provides a tremendous opportunity for construction managers looking to train workers.

Your workers are like you: constantly carrying their mobile phone with them. That mobile phone is a potential virtual university.

Mobile training offers you the ability to deliver training to your workers continuously, and when it is convenient for your employee. It’s particularly good for developing a worker’s judgement skills, such as providing exercises in problem solving and critical thinking. It can also be used to develop more technical skills.

For example, (not affiliated with the government agency) offers safety training courses that can range from $79 for 10 hours to $169 for 30 hours. RedVector offers continuing education and technical training for contractors that can be accessed via mobile devices.

Next Steps

Now that you know what you need to solve your labor shortage problem, what’s next?

  • Decide on your apprenticeship or training program. Are you going to use one of your skilled workers to conduct on-the-job training, sign the worker up for classes or create your own formalized program? Once you’ve made a decision, make sure your plan is in place and ready to go before you hire new unskilled workers.
  • Choose an app or training program to provide continual training for whomever you bring on board.
  • Post your job opening, noting prominently that the job is for people with little to know experience but with an eagerness to learn.

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