Fill the Pool

LABOR SHORTAGEHere's how to combat the industry workforce shortage.

By Adam Dalva

The construction industry is experiencing a fundamental shift as fierce competition for candidates to fill both new and open positions intensifies. The pace of monumental-scale infrastructure construction projects is on the rise worldwide, with current annual global infrastructure demand projected at $4 trillion, according to the World Economic Forum. The U.S. government plans to raise $1 trillion in a private/public partnership to rebuild major infrastructure throughout the country, with a focus on roads, bridges and other major construction endeavors. In addition, technology is transforming the way projects are designed and delivered and diversity is becoming an increasingly important focus for the industry, expanding beyond race and gender to include diversity of thought, background and experience. 

In today’s environment, technology is essential to construction projects, with virtual design and construction (VDC) maximizing the efficiency, safety, and quality of project delivery. Additionally, innovative applications of building information modeling are leading to the use of new tools in construction such as laser scanning, virtual/augmented reality, and 4-D scheduling, creating a greater need for personnel to meet the growing demand for VDC. At the same time, the talent pool is dwindling as a generation of baby boomers—the largest generational portion of employees in construction over the last three decades—has either begun to retire or move on to other roles.  As a result of these changing industry trends, construction companies are rethinking their strategies to attract, recruit and retain new workers. Some of the most effective strategies involve:

Appealing to tech-savvy individuals: This can be challenging, given the industry’s reputation for being slow to adapt to change. Companies involved in large infrastructure projects realize that they have to break through this stereotype to attract a technology-driven generation of workers. They must also reach out to non-traditional candidates from new sources to find the skill sets they require. Areas such as aviation, robotics, engineering, computer science and architecture all can be a source for candidates who have an interest in construction. Forward-thinking companies also are beefing up their co-op and intern programs to nurture future candidates. 

Streamlining the hiring process: In today’s tight market, top candidates are fielding multiple offers, so they can afford to be selective. Potential candidates who are unimpressed by the way they’re being evaluated will almost certainly go elsewhere, and word about long and confusing recruitment procedures spreads quickly among top candidates for infrastructure management positions. Streamlining the hiring process eases stress on hiring managers, reduces the cost of hiring and ensures that top-tier candidates are coming through the talent pipeline with ease. 

Promoting diversity: Raising the representation of women and minorities would have the effect of attracting workers to construction at a time when the industry desperately needs more people. Some companies are forming diversity steering committees, performing culture audits, and raising awareness of the issue throughout all levels of the organization. There is also little doubt that diversity increases innovation, as well as the ability to attract and retain quality people. 

Encouraging excellence: It is vital that companies provide employees with opportunities to hone their craft and continue learning. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this goal comes with leadership programs. Leadership is more than being a good manager. It requires cross-training people and showing them parts of the business they might not otherwise see so that over time, the company will have a pool of leaders to pull from. When companies promote leadership tracks or programs, employees strive to be chosen for those programs, creating a sense of pride that fosters retention.

Cultivating millennials: Change the way the industry is represented when approaching a younger audience.  Some will be attracted to eco-friendly green building. Others will want to know about the use of mobile communications, computers, cameras or lasers. Place specific content that is designed to attract them to the company and create a strong presence on social media, especially on sites specifically targeting large infrastructure projects. Encourage employees to share with their friends and become company ambassadors. 

Knowing when to use a recruiting company:  It makes sense to use a recruitment firm that focuses on large infrastructure construction when you need multiple people at once; when you need a person with a skill set that’s hard to find; or when you’re backlogged and need people right now. Specialized recruiters have the connections and pipelines to fill hard-to-find skill sets, and they know how to present your opportunity to motivate candidates to join your team. Recruiters build relationships with you to understand your requirements and work quickly when you are most in need. 

Recruiting and hiring require dedication to the task; every step from sourcing, introducing the company and interviewing to getting to an offer is important. Today, desirable candidates typically have multiple offers and hesitation sends poor signals. Leveraging your brand with your existing employees is also critical.  When a candidate is evaluating competing offers, connecting with people doing the work who can speak positively about the work environment can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. 

Adam Dalva is the president of Search Max, an affiliate of MRINetwork, one of the largest executive search and recruitment organizations in the world. A leading recruitment firm in identifying top talent in the construction industry for 27 years, Search Max has placed hundreds of project managers, superintendents, estimators, vice presidents and presidents. Prior to joining Search Max, Dalva served as director of business development for Centex Rodgers.

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