What Matters and What’s Working in the Challenging Construction Labor Market

One of the most popular thought-leadership sessions at this year’s B2W Software User Conference validated one of construction’s top challenges and presented creative solutions.

Close to 50 contractors shared experiences and ideas in the interactive roundtable session titled Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Talent. Herb Brownett, a former construction company CFO and industry veteran who consults on financial and operational topics, facilitated the discussion.

“Almost every industry survey these days and every conversation I have with a contractor confirms that finding and keeping good employees is a critical concern,” says Brownett. “The pressure is not going to let up anytime soon and it extends from laborers, foreman and project manager to operators, fleet managers, mechanics and other disciplines.”

Companies representing a wide range of sizes, specialties and geographic regions were represented, and the session was divided into two parts focused on retention and recruiting.

Holding on to talent

Communication and management credibility are at the core of retention strategies. “The message from owners and managers in the session was, it’s important to talk to employees regularly and follow through on promises,” Brownett reports. “Most agreed, the goals are to get to know workers and their personal needs and to make sure they understand the big-picture goals of the company and how they fit into that picture.”

Contractors confirmed they also gain loyalty when their companies promote from within whenever possible and provide a structured path forward and growth opportunities for workers at all levels.

Compensation and benefits are obviously tied to employee retention, but managers said the amount an employee is paid is not always the only factor. A consistent, disciplined payroll program that’s equitable across the board is important. So is a systematic process for reviews and increases that the company sticks to.

For benefits, perceived values may be shifting. Several contractors had instituted retirement plans but reported that the response from employees was lukewarm. Conversely, improved or expanded healthcare benefits were highly appreciated, and childcare is clearly a growing concern.

Several companies said they were using new and creative childcare solutions to differentiate themselves in the eyes of potential new hires. One converted a training room into an area where office employees can bring children to work with them on occasion. Others were experimenting with flexibility options to make it easier to care for children, especially due to the added challenges of the pandemic.

Participants also said interest in work-from-home options is exploding among existing and potential employees. They acknowledge that this presents tough fairness challenges in construction, where some jobs can be performed remotely while others clearly cannot.

Finding new employees

Consensus at the B2W User Conference session was that the industry as a whole needs to do more to make itself more attractive. Still, contractors acknowledged that individual companies can take and are taking steps on their own. Several had proactively established new ties with local high school vocational education programs to provide career information and promote opportunities. Equipment simulators that provide a realistic experience were cited as a promising tool for introducing prospective operators to the profession.

Contractors indicated that testimonials from current employees were especially effective in appealing to potential new ones. Video was the preferred format. Social media was cited as the top vehicle for distributing testimonials and other recruiting messages.

Additional recruitment initiatives mentioned by the group ranged from internships in the office and the field to employee stock ownership programs.

“Of course, an old adage about recruiting was mentioned by several participants,” Brownett concludes. “They concurred that, the best solution to the challenge of recruiting new talent is to do everything you can to retain existing talent.”