Construction’s Got Talent

Hiring, Training, and Retaining Skilled Employees

By Dale Kopnitsky, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Skanska Washington DC Building Operations

The labor shortage making headlines in today’s pandemic marketplace started brewing long before COVID-19 upended global commerce. Across the construction industry, baby boomers are retiring from careers in the trades while a diminishing share of the upcoming workforce is moving to fill their shoes. Hiring promising employees, training them in essential skills, and retaining them over the long term are some of the key challenges facing businesses today. The scarcity of candidates is driving rapid change in human resource strategies: companies are lowering minimum qualifications, raising wages, adding benefits, increasing flexibility, and investing in automation to overcome gaps in their operations.

Strategic Recruitment

The construction industry is uniquely well placed to take advantage of these approaches to build a durable and productive workforce. Strategic recruitment can challenge stereotypes about what it means to “work in construction” and highlight the wealth of opportunities for people with a wide range of skills – many of which can be taught by caring and experienced mentors. Employers are increasingly recognizing that the most essential traits for potential hires are not necessarily represented by a degree or previous training, but instead by interpersonal, problem solving, and adaptability skills. With these basic fundamentals, new employees can be taught the specific and technical aspects of their roles after hiring. 

An Emphasis on Mentorship

Local governments, trade organizations and individual companies are engaged in efforts to develop skilled talent through high school, technical college, and university programs and to connect students to opportunities in the workforce. After hiring, mentorship programs can help new employees learn necessary skills and procedures while also demonstrating the ways that diligence in their particular job contributes to overall team success. Understanding the “why” creates a sense of purpose and instills a strong drive towards excellence. Mentorship also facilitates natural transmission of soft skills that build team cohesiveness and efficiency on the job. Programs like these underscore the vital importance of committed workers to keeping projects on schedule, building work capacity, and preventing crippling delays that ripple from one industry to another. 

Principles of mentorship can also be used by larger companies to nurture development in their subcontractors and junior partners. Skanska operates a Construction Building Blocks Management (CMBB) program and a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) compliance program that supports minority, women-owned, and disadvantaged business enterprises by matching them with mentors to help them develop their workforce and increase their capacity to take on larger and more challenging projects. Programs like these help small businesses learn best practices, industry nuances, and growth strategies from larger companies and often result in mutually rewarding long-term business relationships. 

Prioritizing Diversity 

Initiatives like these lead to more diverse networks and prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts that allow industry leaders to take measurable steps to recruit and train people from a variety of backgrounds. According to a study by McKinsey & Co, bringing together groups of people with varied experiences and backgrounds promotes creative problem solving and decision making. Promoting diversity opens the door to greater employee engagement, business innovation and performance.

Targeted engagement efforts can build a sense of community between diverse employees. At Skanska we have incorporated a daily check-in that we call “stretch and flex.” During this morning activity, we prepare for each day’s goals and invite a worker or team leader to discuss a “values moment.” This practice fosters an open and honest community mindset in which people can speak in front of their peers and gain trust and insight from them as well.

As more companies invest in developing future employees and business partners by promoting diversity, partnership, and mentoring, it will enhance the construction industry’s ability to attract, train, and retain a workforce equipped with the skills and connections to handle whatever challenges may come to the construction landscape. Today’s trainees become the mentors of the future, passing on the lessons, skills, and values that they have learned to the next generation. 

 Photos courtesy of Skanska

This material appears in the February 2022 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & EngineerConstructionConstruction DigestConstruction NewsConstructioneerDixie ContractorMichigan Contractor & BuilderMidwest ContractorNew England ConstructionPacific Builder & EngineerRocky Mountain ConstructionTexas ContractorWestern Builder