The construction industry has been blessed with an abundance of available work for the past decade. With that seemingly endless opportunity comes some challenges. Namely, difficulty in finding trained, competent professional builders. With a shortage of skilled tradesmen, supervisors, and project managers, the industry has been struggling to find talented people to fill available positions.
There has been a promising trend in the past few years to promote the trades and fill the skills gap. High-profile people like Mike Rowe have created foundations to promote learning a trade. States are recognizing the workforce gap and have begun putting trade education back in schools. These are both good long-term strategies.
Project supervision (Project Managers and Superintendents) is another challenge. These positions require project experience and are required to be able to lead project teams. Finding competent project supervision continues to be a major struggle across all the construction trades.
We work with construction companies of all kinds (commercial GC, skilled trades, residential) all over the U.S. and can confirm that this is not an isolated issue. Every type of construction company (both large and small) are experiencing the same challenge to find talent in the tight labor market.
In times like this, employees seem to have more leverage when it comes to demanding higher salaries, wages, and expanded benefits packages. This is frustrating to business owners as it can put limitations on the growth and profitability of the company. In a price-competitive business like construction, how does one continue to compete in the market and attract and retain the best talent simultaneously?
The question we seem to hear the most is, “Where do I find good people?”.
One strategy we have seen with mixed results is hiring younger, less experienced people and giving them more titles and more responsibility. Anecdotally I have heard of recent college graduates from well-known engineering colleges being given Project Manager titles and assigned multi-million-dollar projects to lead within weeks of graduating.
Younger employees are commonly perceived as more affordable to the business than someone who has been in the industry for a number of years. However, the perceived upside can have a fairly obvious downside. Because these young people are less experienced means they will make mistakes. Even smart, well-educated, career aggressive people make mistakes simply due to a lack of experience.
When I work with a client that is thinking about or has already adopted this strategy, I have several questions I would ask to ensure they have a solid strategy. First and foremost is “Do you have a plan to train and equip these young new Project Managers to succeed?”
How Can We Mitigate The Risk?
Early in my career, I was bucking for a promotion to Project Manager. It was explained to me that being granted that title meant that the company trusted me with their money. I was asked a very important question; was I willing to make potentially career-ending decisions every day? This sobering thought was an important lesson for me. It can also be a call to action for business owners who are willing to sacrifice long-term stability for immediate needs without a plan to overcome the obvious potential for failure. Do you trust these young inexperienced managers with your money?
With a tight labor market and the strong urge to potentially put people in positions above their relative competence, now is an excellent time to double down on training and career development.
A company can make great strides in cultivating and creating the competent people they can’t find in the marketplace with a strong continuous training and improvement culture. Having well-defined project delivery processes ensures consistency and helps reduce the frequency and severity of mistakes. An onboarding program that introduces new employees to your organization and its processes sets them, and the company, up for success.
Yes, Small Construction Companies Can Have A Robust Training Program.
With a consistent approach to developing talent, any organization can find people with raw skills and truly invest in their potential for success. Perhaps you’re thinking, I don’t know where to start? Or maybe you don’t have well-thought-out Standard Operating Processes and Procedures?
Start with being the mentor that you wish you had when you started out in the business. There is a long-standing tradition in the industry to throw people into the deep end of the pool and see if they can swim. There is also a very strong impulse for people to repeat the way they were trained whether they liked that experience or not. This “sink or swim” strategy likely loses more than it gains in terms of qualifying people to work in our industry.
How confident are you that your project managers possess the skills and knowledge they need to succeed?
Ascent has helped numerous clients create consistent processes, share the foundational knowledge, and teach the needed skills to project managers and operations staff so they can successfully navigate all of the processes and tools required to be successful.
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Ascent Consulting’s mission is to Build Better Construction Companies.
We are committed to delivering impressive results in the areas of
profitability, performance and growth.
Construction expert Jeff Robertson brings 30+ years of industry knowledge to his consulting projects. He's worked in many sectors ranging from healthcare and retail to multi-family and senior living.