Even the best of times, the U.S. construction industry has long been challenged when it comes to finding and hiring skilled workers. While the building sector is heading toward recovery, a recent analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data states that, despite the building profession’s high unemployment (and rising salaries), as long as the nation continues to grapple with the uncertainty of COVID-19, one thing is absolutely certain: The industry will struggle to locate, hire and retain skilled laborers — in particular, qualified painters.
Why? There are many theories: Some have retired or moved into different professions, others refuse to work for companies that do not follow COVID-19 protocols, while others remain unemployed perhaps to care for family members or attend school. Another possibility is that the next generation of workers (Millennials and Gen Z currently make up 46% of the U.S. workforce) simply has no interest in the construction field and/or not motivated to get vocational training. If this is the case, it means that finding skilled painters will only get more difficult in the future.
So, what’s an employer to do? Rethink your approach and adapt to a new workforce.
How Wide is Your Net (It’s Bigger Than You Think)
Let’s say, you’re looking for the best doctor in town, who do you turn to for recommendations? The people you trust the most – family, friends, and neighbors, etc., as they are an invaluable source of reliable (not to mention, honest) information. And, when searching for a qualified painter, the same logic applies. Word of mouth is undoubtedly the best way to find skilled labor — think “six degrees of separation” — although, thanks to social media, it’s now closer three or four degrees (depending on which platform you use).
And don’t forget about those who know your business best: your employees! You count on them to help your company prosper, why not trust their referrals? Remember, your experienced employees know that when you succeed, everyone succeeds. Even better? They have built and maintained relationships from previous jobs or trade schools and may have a contact list full of high-quality candidates. The same applies to recent hires, as they’re likely to be in closer touch with former students and coworkers. Asking for their input allows them to step up and demonstrate their excitement and dedication to your company.
Also consider offering a company-wide referral incentive if an employee’s recommendation is hired — as well as an additional bonus if the new employee remains with the company for a year. And be sure to post all job openings on your company’s social media and ask employees to do the same!
Back to School
Vocational, trade and technical schools provide great opportunities — apprenticeships, career days, job fairs, job boards, etc. — to connect you with qualified job seekers. Contact your local schools to see if they have a partnership, speaking, or teaching opportunities or, try hosting your own open interview day! Spread the word with local ads and, once again, harness the power of social media. Perhaps ask the schools and nearby chapters of the Painting Contractors Association (PCA) to share your post. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the U.S. Department of Labor Job Corps.
Tips for Finding Talent
Be specific. Create a detailed description for each of your skilled open position. If it’s vague, you may not attract the talent you need. Accurately outline the position’s roles and responsibilities, as well as the experience, skills, training, and certification your ideal candidate possesses.
Make your job listing stand out. Sure, you can run a generic “We’re hiring painters” ad but – chances are – it won’t reach your target candidate. Instead, tout your company’s benefits. For example, on-the-job training, paid continuing education, free lunch each week, profit-sharing, etc.
Tap into your professional network. That doesn’t mean go out and snag someone else’s employee but perhaps you have a contract who knows a skilled painter looking to make a change. One way to motivate your colleagues is to offer a generous “finders’ fee” for any new hire that stays for at least one year. It won’t be cheap, but it’ll cost less than hiring a recruiter!
Don’t hesitate. When you get a lead on a candidate, contact them immediately. Even if you’re not ready to hire right away, be sure to stay in touch. But don’t wait too long, as quality talent that’s looking for a new challenge won’t be available very long.
Reality is: Happy employees are loyal employees — but the days of money equals happiness are gone. COVID has been a fundamental game-changer and, in one way or another, has allowed us plenty of time to reflect and reprioritize our lives.
Sure, salary increases are nice but companies need to realize that today’s workforce puts people — not profit — first. If you asked your crew what they wanted in 2019 vs what they now need (and are demanding) today, it would probably be like night and day. To give you an idea of the “new view”, here are some benefits currently being requested/given:
- Childcare and family benefits
- Diversity and inclusion
- Challenging, meaningful work
- Gender equality
- Mental health support
- More recognition for their work
- More vacation/PTO
- Opportunities for career growth
- Remote work and flexible schedules
- Workplace safety, health, and wellness
By the way, don’t be surprised when employees expect a range of perks they can tailor to their specific needs. It’ll be a game-changer!
Health/wellness/retirement — including 401(k)s, medical/dental, paid vacation, onsite fitness classes, physical and mental well-being workshops, and sick/injury pay, etc. – help keep your long-time employees feeling content and secure. Moreover, these types of benefits may encourage those who view construction as a temporary job to reconsider and make it a career.
Onsite education and training is an investment in your employees’ future. Helping them expand their knowledge and skills communicates that you value them — which, in turn, bolsters their job satisfaction, trust, and loyalty. You not only get better results but have a dedicated team invested in your success. Ask your BEHR PRO Rep to come and provide application training for your crew.
Keep them in the know
Keep your staff aware of company news, changes, and innovations, such as new techniques, materials, on-the-job processes and technologies. For instance, the Home Depot Pro mobile app — which boasts a robust search, account management tools and access to in-store features — helps businesses effectively oversee day-to-day operations anywhere, anytime.
Find out what your employees want and need. How? Just ask! Perhaps send out short, monthly surveys to gauge your team’s thoughts and feelings regarding a particular topic (communication, life/work balance, etc.). Consider making the surveys confidential, to encourage them to feel comfortable providing honest feedback — and remember to hold yourself accountable by using that information to implement the changes that will keep your talent where it belongs.
Yes, it’s a different world out there. People now have greater employment options than ever! This requires that painting and construction companies must accept and adapt to this new view to find and keep the skilled workers who will keep you successful for years to come.
For more information, contact your BEHR PRO Representative.