August 2011: Business Building

Words: George Hedley

altBusiness Building

Builders, contractors and subcontractors continually complain that they can’t find enough trained help to get all their work done. People, or a lack of them, is their biggest problem. This leads me to believe that construction business owners should make finding, training and keeping great employees their No. 1 priority. But, do they? Take the People Priority Test:
  1. How many hours/week do I spend with my people?
  2. How many hours/year do we train our field crews?
  3. How many hours/year do we train our managers?
  4. What is our training budget for the year/employee?
  5. What is our ongoing recruiting program?

So the construction industry labor shortage must exist. Right? Well, guess what? There is not a labor shortage in the United States today. A 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 shortage of trained and qualified workers entering the workforce every year. The problem? No one wants to work in construction. No one wants to work in dead-end jobs. No on 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 a 100 says “yes.” With such a low response from the children of people in the industry, it should come as no surprise that construction ranks No. 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 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. They seldom are given authority to make decisions, commit the company or spend money without approval. 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 most 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. The average construction company trains their people between one and 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, high-tech, involvement in decisions and pay based on performance. They want to understand the big picture at the project and company levels. They need frequent recognition, rewards and someone to care about them and their future. They want a job that pays a lot more than average 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 need a vision of the future. They want to contribute to the success of their company.

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 the job. You need to convince people that your company really does offer a great opportunity, 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, rather than lip service and idle promises. This includes ongoing training and education, programs in team building, computers, supervision and leadership as well as technical skills. Also required are employee recognition systems, personal development programs and pay for performance. 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 frustrated continually 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 needed desperately by everyone. Only you can return our industry to favor with potential young workers. Now is the time for every building and construction company owner, leader, manager and supervisor to focus on the problems that have created this “labor shortage” by implementing immediate and long lasting solutions at every level. The only question is, “When will you start?”

George Hedley is author of “Get Your Business to Work!” and “The Business Success Blueprint For Contractors,” available at his online bookstore. As an entrepreneur, popular speaker and business coach, he helps business owners build profitable companies. Email to request your free copy of “Everything Contractors Know About Making A Profit!” or sign up for his free monthly e-newsletter. To hire George, attend a Profit-Builder Circle boot camp or be a part of an ongoing coaching and mentoring program, call 800-851-8553, or visit

George Hedley, HARDHAT Presentations 3300 Irvine Ave. #135, Newport Beach, CA 92660 Return to Table of Contents
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