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June 2007

Business Building

What Labor Shortage?

Builders, contractors and subcontractors always complain they can't find enough good help. So the construction industry labor shortage must exist, right? Well, guess what? There is not a labor shortage in the United States.

A new luxury hotel recently opened in Las Vegas, attracting 84,000 applicants for only 9,600 job openings. People flock to great jobs at high tech companies, quality manufacturers and even the service industry. People want to work. Yet the construction industry suffers from a 25 percent shortage of new workers entering its workforce every year. The problem? No one wants to work in construction. No one wants to work in, what they consider, dead-end jobs. No one wants to be treated like "hired hands." People want to see a future.

I speak to the construction industry more than 50 times a year at major conventions and company meetings on business, leadership and customer relationships. I ask my audiences: "Do any of your kids want to work in construction?" Only one in 100 answers "yes." With such a low response from the children of people in the industry, it should come as no surprise to you that construction ranks 248 out of 250 career opportunities among high school seniors.

Why Work in Construction?
Why would any young person ever want to work in the construction field? It is cold, hot, dirty and dangerous. Field workers are often treated like hired hands and expected to follow orders from above, do only as told and not make waves. They aren't invited to company events, allowed to participate in profit sharing or treated as equals with management or office staff personnel. When it rains, they are sent home without pay. They receive little or no recognition and are not involved in project or company planning and scheduling. Great opportunity? Not.

Pay for field construction workers has declined steadily for 10 years (adjusted for inflation and buying power), while other career choices have experienced a net increase. Construction field workers see a pay potential that plateaus quickly and declines as they get older and less valuable than their younger peers. Great upside potential? Not.

Fortune magazine's "Most Admired Companies in America" train their people between 40 and 60 hours per year; construction companies average one to three hours per year per employee. Great training? Not.

Why would anyone be surprised that nobody wants a job in an industry that offers hard work, low pay, inadequate training, few personal development opportunities and little career growth?

What Do Young People Want?
Young people today want responsibility, accountability, growth opportunities, involvement in decisions and pay based on performance. They want to understand the big picture at the project and company level. They need frequent recognition, rewards and someone to care about them and their future. They want a job that pays well with an upside potential. Young people want to make a difference. They want to be an involved part of an exciting company that leads the competition. They want to contribute to the success of their company. They need a vision of the future.

All the talk, complaining, programs and money will never get young people to seek work in the construction field until builders, contractors and subcontractors change the way they do business.

What's the Solution?
To attract great people, every construction business, large and small, must commit to creating great places to work. Each manager and supervisor must make recruiting an important part of his or her job. You need to convince people that your company really is a great opportunity for them and promise that their job will lead to a fantastic career. It takes more than placing a want ad or calling the hall to find and attract great people. It takes dedication, commitment, time and money to make it happen.

To retain great people, companies must have a proactive and aggressive employee development program — not lip service and idle promises. This includes ongoing training and education, programs in team building, computers, supervision, leadership and technical skills. Also required are employee recognition systems, personal development programs and pay-for-performance progrms. Future growth career ladders must be clear, tracked and updated regularly.

To develop great people requires new management and leadership styles that coach, inspire and encourage people to become the best they can be. This requires letting go and trusting people to take it to the next level. This only happens when managers realize that people are their only competitive advantage. Their output equals your input!

When Will You Start?
I am continually frustrated as I speak to owners and managers. People learn what to do, but don't do it. Why? Most business leaders are unwilling to try new ideas. They get used to the way it is. They get comfortable in their misery, stay put and go nowhere. Is your way working? Is the comfortable way working? Not.

My challenge to you is to change our industry now; radical innovation, risk taking and real leadership are desperately needed by everyone. Only you can return our industry to favor with potential young workers. Now is the time for every mason contractor to focus on the problems that have created this "labor shortage" by implementing immediate and long-lasting solutions at every level. The only question left is: "When will you start?"







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