construction team on site

Make People a Priority


Builders, contractors, and subcontractors complain they can’t find enough good trained help. It seems like they continually hope for a miracle, but don’t want to put in the time, energy, and resources to build a great place to work that attracts, retains, and trains great managers, supervisors, and employees. There are great people looking for great jobs. And if you can’t find them, perhaps they just don’t want to work for your company and what it has to offer!

People want to work, accept responsibility, and do a good job building their future. Yet, the construction industry suffers from a large shortage of new 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 one wants to be treated like a ditch digger and only get paid on the days they work. No one wants to work fifty hours a week and then get laid off in the winter, or not earn vacation pay, or not have real employee benefits. People want to be treated as valuable team members, trained, and have an opportunity to move up.

When construction owners and managers are asked if their kids want to work in the same business, only one in 100 answers in the affirmative. With such a low response coming from the children of people in the industry, it should come as no surprise that construction ranks number 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’s 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 don’t get to provide input into crew decisions and aren’t treated with much respect. They aren’t provided a training ladder to move up, allowed to participate in profit sharing, or treated as equals with management or office staff personnel. They are seldom given authority to make decisions, allowed to commit the company to spend money without approval, or asked for their ideas on how to improve field productivity. When it rains, they are sent home without pay or benefits. They receive little or no praise or recognition, and are not involved in project or company planning and scheduling. Great opportunity? Obviously not.

The pay given to 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 their pay potential plateau or drop as they get older and less valuable compared to their younger peers. Great upside potential? Obviously 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? Obviously 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, teamwork, high tech, involvement in decisions, and performance-based pay. They want to understand the big picture at the project and company level. They need frequent recognition, rewards, and someone to care about their future. They want a job that pays a lot more than average with an upside potential. Young people want to make a difference and want to be an involved part of an exciting company that leads the competition. They need a vision of the future and want to contribute to the success of their company. All the talk of 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 is the Solution

To attract great people, every construction company, large and small, must commit to creating great places to work. Each manager and supervisor must make recruiting an important part of their job. You need to convince people that your company really is a great opportunity for them, and promise them that their job will lead to a fantastic career. It takes more than placing a want ad to find and attract good people. It takes dedication, commitment, time, planning, strategy, and money to make it happen. It also takes someone in your company accountable to keep the pipeline full of great people applying for a career with your company. If no one is in charge of attracting new people, it won’t happen.

To find and retain great people, companies must have a proactive and aggressive employee development program, and not just lip service and idle promises. This includes ongoing training and education, programs in team building, computers, supervision, leadership, as well as technical skills. Also required are employee recognition systems, personal development programs, and pay for performance based on results. Future growth career ladders must be clear, tracked, and updated regularly.

To develop great people requires new 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 people are their only competitive advantage— their output equals your input.

When Will You Start

People learn what to do, but don’t do it. Why is that? Most business leaders are unwilling to try new ideas or invest in people. They want to hire cheap and get great results. They get used to the way it is, get comfortable in their misery, and complain about the lack of trained people to hire. Waiting and hoping for great people to show up at your doorstep doesn’t work.

Your challenge is to change your company culture now. Radical innovation, risk taking, and real leadership are desperately needed. Only you can return your company to favor with potential workers. Now is the time for every 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 left is: "When will you start?"

Business - Commercial Construction Industry

Ready to explore how Sunflower Bank can assist you? Speak to a personal banker at a branch near you, contact a specialist on our Wealth Management team, or find the right financial partner on our Commercial Banking team for your business needs. 

Back to Resource Articles

This article contains general information only. Sunflower Bank is not, by means of this article, rendering accounting, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This article is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, before making any decisions related to these matters, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.