Attracting young people to the construction industry

January 3, 2017

young-construction-workersFrustrated by the workforce that’s available to you? Let’s figure out how you can attract young people into construction and into your company.

Start them young

When you accepted your first job in the construction industry, did you do it because you loved it or because it was a better option than flipping burgers? Like you, there are many people who entered a trade job because they could not fathom working 9 to 5 in an office, stuck sitting behind a computer, and they wanted to build things and work with their hands.

In order to improve this industry and the success of your business, those people have to be found, trained and treated well.

Necessary changes

According to Bill Rogers, executive director of Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ Job Corps, a major hurdle to bringing eager young people into construction is the lack of support for the trades. High school education is geared toward those who want to attend a four-year college. Anyone who enjoys technical or shop classes, like he did, is not nurtured.

You, therefore, have to find these tech-savvy youngsters. To achieve success it’s also important to change your perception about millennials. Rogers believes people have to get over the assumption that young people are lazy. He works with about 800 16-24 year olds per year, most from a disadvantaged background, who want an opportunity to work. Spoiled laziness might be rampant on a college campus, but it is not running through the halls of the Job Corps.

Next, change your view about what a career truly is. Don’t hire a younger worker as a servant and then act surprised when he quits in a year or less. Similarly, don’t get into the routine of hiring short-term labor and laying people off. This leaves you hiring the least desirable people and perpetuates misconceptions about construction.

Rogers says: “We have not done a good job of making our industry attractive to young people seeking careers. Today, people are offered stagnant or reduced wages. They are not always given medical insurance. There is little room for advancement, and training doesn’t exist. We ask young people to do the grunt work, and it’s really hard work, and then we lay them off. This has to change if we expect people to make a life-long career in construction.”

You can begin by offering incentives to stay. For instance, give end-of-the-year bonuses, or start a 401(k) fund, where you make quarterly deposits too. If you don’t offer medical insurance as an employer, help your guys find decent coverage. Take everyone out to dinner when a job is completed at or under budget. These are simple acts that show your level of commitment to an employee and his future. Because we can read your mind, these efforts do not have to be expensive—putting $200 in an account or buying a round of chicken wings and beers can go a long way for employee satisfaction.

You also have to provide training to stay current within an ever-changing industry. As a small contractor, you may not have the financial resources to provide much hands-on and classroom training. This is where unions might have an advantage because they can pool their resources. Rogers says if training is important to a non-union employer, you might want to look into a partnership with a union; it may not be as expensive as you think. If this isn’t an option, reach out to local and national associations that provide year-round education, educational materials online and trade-show resources. Also consider your top asset—your crews. Every company has that knowledgeable guy who can turn into a mentor. You can create a mentorship program, giving the mentor a bonus for taking on more work. By doing so, you have created a new job opportunity for an older crew member while investing in your new employees.

A new perception

Rogers says there is a saying that too many employers expect 20 years of experience out of 20-year-olds. The truth is, the perception of the industry and the expectations for young workers will only change if we work for improvements. Likewise, the success of your company and your employee retention only will improve if you make some changes. Hire smart, offer training and benefits that matter to you and your employees, and let’s turn this industry into one that people are eager to join.


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