Spin Screed

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Where did all the good employees go?
Monroe Porter
Monroe Porter
By Monroe Porter

Everywhere you look, contractors are seeking employees. Things have changed from when I started in this business over 40 years ago. Most of those changes are social in nature. The demographics of American employment have changed dramatically through the years. Yet many contractors have not changed with the times.

We used to attract hard working farm boys but automation, fewer children per household, corporate farming and lots of other factors have shrank farm employment from 18% of the workforce in 1910 to less than 1% in 2000. There’s no one to recruit.

Drug and alcohol abuse doesn’t help. In a recent newsletter, the recruiting firm Partnership Staffing Solutions noted that 3/4 of all addicts have a job. Another source indicated that 18.1% of the unemployed are drug users; twice the average of those employed. In a September 2017 article, Quartz Media reported that nearly half of working-age American men who are out of the labor force use painkillers daily.

And it is not going to get better. A 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicated that 20.7% of US construction workers are 55 years of age or older. That means that 1 in 5 construction workers are looking to retire in the next 10 years.

To make matters worse, many young people do not see contracting jobs as an attractive career. Not too long ago, we surveyed a large union contractor’s workforce in a metro market where employees were paid very, very well. While happy with their job, the workers overwhelmingly did not want their children to go into the trades.

In summary, it is going to be harder and harder to find, recruit and keep good workers. With that said, we are left with 2 options for dealing with the current labor shortage situation:

• Recruit people and train them to meet your needs.

While we intellectually know this, are we merely giving lip service to the problem or has your company culturally changed? Are you constantly looking for people as you should be? Do you have a recruiting budget and on-boarding process, or are you simply doing business as usual? Do you really pursue employees as hard as you do potential jobs? To survive, you need to start.

• Be the best employer in your area and attract people.

I am not talking about simply paying more and stealing people. It goes beyond that. Employees talk and know each other. They know where the best places to work are. What is your employment reputation? Are you seen as the leading employer in your trade? Do people aspire to work for you? What is your turnover rate? When employees leave you, where do they go? Employees tell us they are quitting for more money, but survey after survey finds people leave because they were not happy where they were employed and didn’t feel appreciated.

Steps for recruiting & retaining
Here are some common-sense steps that can help with employee recruitment and retention.

• Make someone responsible
First, who is in charge of the effort? Assign someone to make this a priority. Schedule regular progress reviews. Unless you make it a priority by putting key people in charge of the process, you will probably struggle. You may even want to hire someone part time to help.

• Recruit everywhere
Next, take a broad approach to recruiting. Put applications on your website. Offer employee bounties to bring in good people. But if you offer a bounty, pay something once a month for 6 months as long as the person stays. Advertise on your trucks, Facebook, website, at supply houses, in coffee shops, churches, etc. Blanket the market.

• Really get after it
If you see a young person hustling in a fast food restaurant, is your first instinct to offer them a job? If not, you probably do not have the right mindset. There is a cartoon of 2 vultures sitting a tree, one turns to the other and says. “Patience my #$!?#, I am going to kill something.” Kill something. Don’t wait for it to happen. Like any other commodity, scarcity requires urgency and aggression. If you don’t get after it you will be left out.

• Communicate & get feedback
Change your culture by doing a better job of training and on-boarding existing employees. Don’t just hire people and throw them to the dogs. Support them. Some surveys report that as high as 50% of new employees decide the first day whether they will or will not stay. Certainly, by the end of the week.

Do you touch base with people to see how they like working there, and are they going to stay, etc.? Probably not. Ask your foreman for their feedback on new people. Do they think the new person will stay? How did the person do? What needs to be done to ensure they succeed? New employees that can turn into stable employees are a valuable commodity. Not keeping in touch with them and not doing whatever you can do to ensure their success, is like leaving a stack of money on the job with no one to guard it.

The employment shortage is so severe, many wonder if even a severe recession would solve the problem. I don’t think any of us want that as part of the solution. If you are going to stay in business, you must change your approach to employment.


Monroe Porter is president of PROOF Management Consultants, a company specializing in seminars, and business consulting for contractors. He is also founder of PROSULT™ Networking Groups developed to help noncompeting contractors. Call (804) 267-1688, email Monroe@Proofman.com or visit Proofman.com.