Employee Onboarding Contractor Q&A


Words: MASONRY Magazine 
Photos: Tiffany Tillema 

Editor’s Note: This month, we spoke with three industry professionals on the employee onboarding process for this month’s contractor. We’d like to thank Tiffany Tillema, Ron Adams, and Paul Cantarella Jr. for taking the time to talk to us about their experiences with this vital part of the hiring process. 

Tell us about the pre-boarding/pre-employment process.

Ron Adams, President of Cascade Construction: We advertise to fill the position, then resumes are reviewed, and the best resumes move forward to an initial phone call to see if the person is qualified. From that round, we move to virtual interviews. 

We need to feel someone will fit our culture and work well with our existing team, they need to have the necessary skill set to do the job we are hiring for, and they must pass a background check. 

Tiffany Tillema, Senior Management of Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: I usually keep an ad or two out there, as there is always a need these days. When they come to the office, I make sure that I have prepared for them to be there. We do not want to do this "on the fly,” they fill out an application unless they have prepared a resume. While the applicants are there, I often start the onboarding by asking pointed questions about goals and experience to get where we need to go from there. To see whether they are a good fit for our company or not. 

I used to send a welcome email before they come in, but since COVID, I have been getting them situated here in the office and finishing onboarding on the jobsite. After meeting with them and starting the process, I send them an email or text welcoming them and letting them know where to go next. I assign them to someone I feel like they will be comfortable with to be the designated shadow.

Our requirements are pretty simple. For masons, I feel out how experienced they are. You would be surprised at how many "experienced" masons have no idea how to answer what a CMU unit is. This helps me see which job they would do best and who I need to assign them to finish onboarding on the job. I usually do a background check, but I am not overly concerned about most minor offenses, although I cannot hire a sexual offender.

I am less concerned about the experience with general labor, although it is a big plus. I am more concerned about the new hire’s willingness to learn and advance with our company. I want them to be excited about working for us.

Paul Cantarella Jr., President of Cantarella & Son Inc.: Luckily for us, we are a union contractor, so the majority of applicants have already had a lot of training through the union to get to this point. But when they arrive on-site, nothing is more important than getting the point across about how important safety is every workday. New employees will sit down with the job foreman and go over general safety and specific jobsite safety issues after reading and understanding our safety manual and procedures. 

They have to be in the union to hire them, which means they have to meet the union’s criteria to join (Driver’s license, High school diploma/GED, etc.)  They would have to show good work ethics and skills to graduate onto a jobsite.

What does the onboarding process look like now compared to how it was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ron Adams, President of Cascade Construction: Finding someone to fit within the company culture is more of a focus; getting the right person on the team is our focus. It is harder to do in a virtual world but a necessary part, and if we do not find someone that fits into the company culture, it does not work long term. In the past, we would have people come in for interviews; now, we get it narrowed down to the person we want before we bring them in for an in-person interview. We have even made a few virtual hires and met the person on their first day of work due to our state’s pandemic and restrictions. 

Tiffany Tillema, Senior Management of Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Pre-boarding and on-boarding are more critical now than they have ever been. In years past, people were begging for these skilled labor jobs. We used to wait for the market to find us, We can no longer afford to do so. There is a shortage of employees, and it does not look to be getting better anytime soon. We need onboarding programs that adapt to the times and aim to keep the employees we do find. We must not be stagnant.

The onboarding process is now mostly done on the jobsite, whereas it used to be completed mainly in the office. Face to face contact has become less important than protecting as many employees and potential employees from sickness. The fewer people that are in contact with one another, the better. I still do the pre-board in the office, but most of the actual onboarding will be done on the job. My supervisors and foremen have all been trained to onboard.

Paul Cantarella Jr., President of Cantarella & Son Inc.: It’s not done in the office trailer anymore where space is confined. If possible, paperwork is sent to us ahead of time, or we set them up somewhere out on the jobsite where there’s room to keep to 6 feet apart while they review all the paperwork. Pens and clipboards that are used for signing paperwork need to be wiped down when done.

What are some topics that are covered during the onboarding?

Ron Adams, President of Cascade Construction: We discuss work styles, job descriptions, introductions to everyone in the office, goals for the new employee and the company. 

Tiffany Tillema, Senior Management of Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: I want to know what goals a new employee has. Is this job temporary? Did Mom tell them, "Get a job or else?" Are they in between jobs? Going to college? Or do they want to learn the business of Masonry and advance in our company? Of course, I want someone willing to learn and stick with me, but there are things they need to know to do that. Here are a few things most employees would like to know:

  • What will the first day look like?
  • Will someone be there to greet them? (Please do have someone there!)
  • Who to call if something happens? 
  • What to wear? 
  • Break and lunch policies? 
  • Benefits? 
  • Holidays? 
  • Sick days? 
  • Expectations and how to resolve issues? 

All this is discussed in the office on the first day, and whomever they are assigned to will finish onboarding and answer any other questions we did not discuss here.

Paul Cantarella Jr., President of Cantarella & Son Inc.: Being union, IMI (International Masonry Institute) does all of the training. General safety and job-specific safety hazards and job-specific safety plans are the main topics that are covered. They are required to read and fully understand our safety manual and procedures before stepping a foot onto the scaffold. 

How do you deal with any challenges that may occur during the onboarding?

Ron Adams, President of Cascade Construction: We are focused on finding the right person for the job to avoid challenges; if we make a mistake, we try to move on before it becomes a bigger problem quickly. 

Tiffany Tillema, Senior Management of Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Fortunately, I've not run into many onboarding problems.

The main challenge is keeping new hires. It seems that fewer employees are loyal to one company and retaining new hires is increasingly more difficult. We need them to be interested in advancement in our company. Onboarding is the number one way to help keep them. When onboarding is complete, they should feel confident starting with us and want to stick with us. That can be a little difficult sometimes.

Paul Cantarella Jr., President of Cantarella & Son Inc.: We haven’t run into too many challenges during the onboarding process being a union contractor. It makes that process a lot easier as the applicants are well-trained from the union, so there are usually no challenges.  

How much time do you allot for onboarding?

Ron Adams, President of Cascade Construction: It depends on the position. Typically 2-4 hours is spent with the person the first day, getting them through the paperwork and logged into the computer system. We often try to check in with them during the first few weeks outside of any specific training we have them do. 

Tiffany Tillema, Senior Management of Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: As much time as needed. Depending on the person, it may be 30 minutes to an hour or more here at the office. Some take a little more time. On the job, it may take a day or longer. Some reminders are often required; most new employees quickly learn what expectations are when prepared.

Paul Cantarella Jr., President of Cantarella & Son Inc.:  It can take half an hour to a half-day. Whatever it takes to make sure the new employee understands the company’s safety standards and procedures.  

How has the pandemic affected the way onboarding is conducted?

Ron Adams, President of Cascade Construction: Very much so, we have transitioned to virtual interviews due to the pandemic, where it is less personal than being face to face. I find it does allow for good interaction. 

Tiffany Tillema, Senior Management of Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: We have as little contact as possible—less time in the office and more time on the job. The person I assign to onboard will send me texts and phone calls to update the progress. We keep a record of that progress, and if I feel we need more in-office time, we will schedule that.

Paul Cantarella Jr., President of Cantarella & Son Inc.: Cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning!  We now need to wipe everything that has been touched. Also, the onboarding process needs to take place in an area where separation can be maintained.

What are some tips for onboarding you have?

Ron Adams, President of Cascade Construction: Find the right person the first time, so you don’t have to find their replacement. 

Tiffany Tillema, Senior Management of Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Be relaxed. This should not feel like an interrogation. Offer them a drink of water or soda. I have a few videos that can be shown as well. I used to have them watch them at the office; now, I send them a Youtube link.

The guys will kill me for this, but I often warn them of the "tricks" that might be played, like sending them for a box of bed joints. Haha! Just make sure they leave your office comfortable and confident.

Paul Cantarella Jr., President of Cantarella & Son Inc.: The biggest tip is to make sure the new anyone, everyone absorbs or learns things differently than others and might need more time to digest all the info. 

What are some things to avoid during onboarding?

Ron Adams, President of Cascade Construction: Don’t rush to hire, this often leads to finding the wrong person, and then you have to start the search all over to get the right person. In the end, this costs you time and money. 

Tiffany Tillema, Senior Management of Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Avoid too many personal questions. Ask what you need to know. While you should emphasize safety and proper protocol, now is not the time for horror stories and pictures. Save them for a safety toolbox talk. Listen to their concerns and answer them honestly.

Be prepared for their arrival, whether it be at the office or on the job site. You do not want to look unprepared. Make sure they understand the goals you have for them and what you want them to achieve.

Make sure you give them feedback as often as needed, we need them to form good habits early, and they need to know they are on track. Don't overwhelm them. Do not rely overly on their assigned shadow. Please make sure you keep in contact with whomever it is assigned to them and make sure they are acclimating.

Another big mistake is not having an ongoing process in place. It would help if you had constant feedback from them and to them, so they did not get lost in the shuffle. 

Paul Cantarella Jr., President of Cantarella & Son Inc.: Having the new employee just signing the paperwork and not letting them read/study anything so that you can get them on the scaffold. Try not to make it all sound so dull that you put them to sleep. You want the new employees to feel engaged. Don’t forget to go over the company’s culture at this time. You want to make sure they understand the company’s core values as they represent you on the jobsite.

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