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A Construction Contractor’s Guide to Recruiting Younger Employees

A Construction Contractor’s Guide to Recruiting Younger Employees

Construction & Real Estate

For the third consecutive year the #1 concern among contractors is recruiting and retaining employees, according to our 2018 Maryland Construction Industry Survey. Now that the economy has bounced back, the work is coming in but the competition for construction employees is fierce.

Given the industry’s aging workforce and an unprecedented number of retiring owners, contractors need to do everything possible to recruit young employees into the industry.

We polled local construction contractors to see what they think should be done to attract younger people to the profession. Here’s what they said …

  • Offer in-house training programs that show young employees a clear career path in the company
  • Construction companies should attend job fairs in high schools and trade schools
  • Inform educators about opportunities other than just attending college
  • Better promote vocational and technical schools
  • Break the perception that all students should go to college for a four-year degree
  • Integrate more current technology in the construction industry to get kids interested and engaged
  • Create a more positive perception of the construction industry
  • Help younger generations see that blue collar industries offer long-lasting career opportunities and good pay

Clearly, contractors aren’t feeling great about the future of the industry from a recruitment standpoint. In fact, nearly 60% of Maryland contractors say they aren’t satisfied with what’s being done to recruit younger generations to the construction industry.

recruiting young people to construction jobs

Get more data on the state of Maryland's construction industry.

Construction: An Overlooked Career Path

The truth is, construction is often an overlooked career path. In recent years construction jobs have been looked at as a temporary source of income for college students, or as last resort jobs when nothing else is available.

These days almost all high school students are expected and encouraged to attend college. If you have a school age child, when is the last time you recall a teacher suggesting that he or she consider a career in construction? [Cue the crickets.]

Rob Bertazon, founder of the Maryland Construction Network says, “Businesses in the construction industry must take an active and vocal stance against our education system and their insistence that every person needs a college degree. The biggest threat to construction recruiting comes from within the walls of our public school systems.”

If you’re like most construction companies, you need to build up your workforce. Even if you have enough employees at the moment, think about your company’s future leaders. Where will they come from?

What’s Important to Young Employees?

We think it makes sense to tap into the millennial generation (people born between 1981 and 1996) seeing that they make up a quarter of the U.S. population.

But if you’re going to recruit millennials – and keep them happy in your company – you need to understand what makes them tick.

Let’s take a look at what’s important to millennials. Hint: While salary and benefits are important to millennials, there’s much more to the story.

1. Opportunities for Growth and Advancement

Younger employees want to know about opportunities for advancement at your company. Lay out a career path for them. Even better, communicate clear objectives and time frames for taking specific steps toward growing within your company. 

Give feedback to your employees. A lot of feedback. Not only will it help you get better performance out of your employees from job to job and year to year, but giving frequent feedback will help your younger employees stay engaged and show them what they need to do to improve.

More than a third of contractors aren’t giving annual reviews to their employees according to our 2018 Maryland Construction Industry Survey. While conducting reviews takes time, it’s super important. Pro tip: using a short construction job employee evaluation form can make giving employee feedback less painful.

2. Training and Mentoring

Young employees want training, and not just technical training. They want training on soft skills like leadership, communication, conflict resolution and team building.

Our survey found that only one out of ten construction companies say they are doing a “great job” when it comes to leadership development. This is unfortunate, considering that many owners of construction businesses are getting ready to retire and two-thirds (yikes!) of them haven’t yet identified their successor.

As you bring younger employees into your company, there is a goldmine of an opportunity to develop future leaders.

Groom future leaders by mentoring them. Have your best employees mentor younger employees to show them the ropes and demonstrate by example what it takes to succeed at your company.

3. Being Part of Something Larger Than a Job

Millennials tend to be conscientious about social causes. While employees have a job to do, young employees in particular like to know they are making a difference.

You can accomplish this by giving them something to take ownership of within your business, like managing the company’s Facebook page, or training employees how to use a new timekeeping system.

Some companies make community service a part of their culture. We’ve done this at our own firm and have seen positive results in more ways than one. It’s turned into a nice leadership development program for our younger staff members, who take charge of organizing community service days and charitable initiatives at our firm. They are responsible for recruiting co-workers to participate and coordinating activities with local nonprofits.

4. Technology Tools

Like it or not, millennials grew up with technology and it plays a huge role in how they live. It only makes sense that young people will look for companies that use and embrace technology.

They are tech-savvy and accustomed to having information available at their fingertips.

Bertazon, who has worked in Maryland’s construction industry for three decades, says “Younger people still wrongly perceive a career in construction means a lifetime of swinging a hammer or digging a ditch. We need to teach them it can also mean working with cutting edge technology.”

Young employees won’t want to fill out a paper timesheet by hand every day. They’ll expect to access emails and documents on a mobile device out in the field. They’ll want 24/7 access to what they need to do their job well.

There are technology tools every construction contractor should invest in. Ask yourself whether your company is using technology effectively, or better yet, ask a millennial.

How Do You Find Young Employees?

When we surveyed contractors, many indicated that there should be more of a push to change the perception of construction jobs. Several contractors told us more should be done to promote construction jobs to young school children.

We suggest working with your local construction trade associations to see if they have any school outreach programs. Consider attending job fairs and recruiting events to help educate kids, teachers and guidance counselors about careers in construction.

As you look to meet your immediate hiring needs, ask yourself whether you’re looking in the right place. When you’re ready to dive into online job searches, our Beginner’s Guide: How to Find New Construction Employees Online might be helpful. It covers where to post your job openings, how much it’ll cost, and how to write a good job online job description.

While we’re talking about looking for employees online, it’s a good time to consider your construction company’s online presence.

Some construction companies have unappealing websites, or worse, no website at all. This is unfortunate, because you can be guaranteed that anyone under the age of 40 who is considering applying for a job at your company will go online to check you out. They will look for a website and possibly a social media presence. If they see no online presence, or a website that looks like it’s from 2002, a young person will most likely get turned off and assume the company is either not successful or is antiquated. You don’t want that to be your company’s image, particularly not if you are trying to recruit younger employees to your business.

Focus On the Next Generation

Young employees are out there. It’s time to start recruiting them. Once you have them on board, use these seven common sense employee retention strategies for construction contractors to keep them with your company for the long haul.

Need Help?

If you have questions about how to recruit and retain employees in your construction business, contact us online or call 800.899.4623.

2019 Maryland Construction Industry Survey Executive Summary

Published on July 12, 2018