Retention Revolution: Keep employees, no matter the economics

There is a chicken and an egg situation gone en rogue in the construction industry. Quality workmanship and a strong workforce depend on good training and employer investment. Employers don’t invest because they are concerned their money and time will be wasted when trained employees leave for broader horizons. Trainees don’t feel loyal to their employers because their employers won’t invest in them. And on we go.

Given the cyclical nature of construction and the extent to which it is at the mercy of global economics, there is no doubt successful construction companies have to develop and sustain a strong workforce to stay competitive. Once employers have bitten the bullet and trained their men and women, the real work begins: keeping them.

For one thing, money isn’t everything. It is awesome, that is for sure, but it isn’t
always enough to keep good people. The Society for Human Resources Management reports people in most industries value the same types of benefits – health, retirement security, financial bonuses, vacation and leave pay – but another study suggests trade workers have different priorities.

Kimmel & Associates studied the career values of trade workers and discovered their interests and the benefits that matter most to them vary by length of time in the industry. According to author Jasmine Gordon’s recollection of Kimmel & Associates’ research, trade workers in their first decade of employment care most about varied job experience and location flexibility; those in their second decade cared about the ability to grow their career and income; and, work-life balance and relocation benefits mattered most to those in their third decade.

HomeAdvisor reports 93 per cent of construction businesses believe their companies could boom over the next year if only they could find and retain the right individuals—here are that group’s tips for getting there:

1. Offer work-study options: Programs like the BCWCA’s wall and ceiling training programs give new recruits the allure of a job with the time to get trained simultaneously.

2. Don’t hide from entrepreneurial ambition: Employees who want to work for themselves are self-starters, big thinkers, and go-getters—why squash their dreams? Find ways to empower these ambitious folks, keep them closer, and feed their leadership fire with roles that allow them to build the company, create opportunity, and deal directly with failure.

3. Provide mentorship: Training doesn’t end with school. New recruits rely on your skilled workforce for guidance and finding their niche in the industry. If there isn’t time on site to answer 300 questions, make casual Friday afternoon drinks or grub a time for young and experienced to get together away from the fast pace, share stories, and swap tips.

Isaac Barlow, CEO of busybusy, a human resources research and development company, talks about building a strong and inclusive company culture and uses construction metaphors to ask employers how they bring workers together.

“So what is it that your company is building?” he asks. “What is the grand scheme, the great blueprint that you’re building on? When you can clearly articulate that, people will want to be a part of it. We all want to be proud of what we do. We want to be able to go home and brag about it to our families. When a company’s vision and culture satisfy that need, it’s a very powerful thing. When you have that vision, and have put into place the elements of a positive culture that promotes mutual respect, team values, high performance, and loyalty up and down, it will draw in quality people. It will help you put together a high-calibre team that shares your vision and will work hard to advance the business.”

Sometimes losing people is just the nature of the beast— contract and short-term work makes it difficult for workers to commit to one company, or the boom and bust of specific sectors makes it difficult for companies to be broad enough to appeal to workers still finding their niches.

Making sure yours is a business people want to come to means building a collaborative culture where managers, supervisors, apprentices, and office staff have an open rapport and a kind nature, rather than a commanding presence.

Find something (like safety) everyone can understand, get behind, and support in terms of making the company a better place to be—this creates a family-like environment and families are harder to leave than random companies.

Consider labour sharing. It sounds radical, but there are companies who share labour with competitors in other sectors to keep workers in slow times and to allow apprentices and new recruits the flexibility to try new industries without leaving the nest, so to speak. So, if Joe’s Commercial Drywall has a great employee with interest in steel framing, he might partner with George’s Framing to share labour power in slower times or on a contract basis because at least Joe stays connected to his labour force while they find their passion.

Let employees know you care about more than their technical skills. The Human Resources department in Construction World published an article on employee retention that suggests benefits that support and enhance employees’ health and wellness and education. Gym memberships, incentives for physical fitness, or a company sports team bring people together and show employees you care about their health. And don’t forget education: lunch and learns, workshops, skill development, and online training in any number of areas is widely available and demonstrates a commitment to the team. A labourer who can’t read blueprints will get more from a blueprint course than he or she will from being banished from the estimator’s office.

Investing in employees is still a risk, and they still may leave. Employing these strategies will at least get you a good reputation so if you do lose a few, there will always be more in the hopper. And let’s be honest, someone has got to catch that chicken if you are going to escape the cycle.