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3 ways to close the construction skills gap

3 ways to close the construction skills gap

In the U.S., and globally, skilled jobs are the hardest to fill, according to Manpower Group.

That's no surprise to construction companies. However, if it's difficult now, what can contractors expect to deal with a decade from now?

Companies unwilling or unable to effectively attract, engage and retain their workforce will pay the consequences in the not-so-distant future (a future that can include going out of business).

"The onus is on companies now to actively engage employees," says Ethan Martin, consultant and executive coach at Integrated Leadership Systems. "If employees don't like it somewhere, they'll just leave."

Martin shared action steps for contractors through the Association of Equipment Manufacturers' (AEM) CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 initiative.

1. Make an Attitude Adjustment
Successfully tackling workforce engagement necessitates a shift in both attitude and strategy for many construction companies.

"Employees are changing, the world and the market is changing. [Companies] have to be willing to face that reality, and it's not for better or for worse, it's just different," says Martin.

Successful workforce engagement activities are interconnected with other organizational aspects.

"As long as workforce engagement is viewed as something separate, it becomes the uninteresting piece, or something like a task or a responsibility, rather than just being incorporated into what's being done," says Martin.

2. Tomorrow Is Too Late: Commit the Time and Resources Now
Companies often cite a lack of time and resources as a reason why they fall short in employee engagement efforts.

Measurable progress takes time, and the majority of workforce engagement efforts do not yield results for years.

Martin relays that one organization he works with recently began reaching out to high school students and collaborating with local career centres; company leaders understand they won't see the fruits of their hard work for at least two to four years.

"However, this company is doing this now, so when the lack of skilled labor is even more of an issue in the future, it will have built up its reputation as the go-to employer in the area," Martin notes.

Cost concerns serve as another common reason for not engaging employees consistently and effectively. However, contractors must recognize employee investment as being critical to organizational success.

"Too many companies fear investment in current employees or future employees, even to the point where they actually end up losing them," says Martin. "The investment, as it turns out, would have cost them less than replacing the employee."

3. Hire for Character First
Much is made about attracting the workforce of tomorrow. Construction companies looking to engage with young people need to explain better the value of a career in the skilled trades.

Convey the significance of the work they're doing, why it matters. "It puts the focus back on the mission, and millennials want to make a difference," says Martin.

If there is one piece of advice Martin would give a construction contractor when looking to hire a young worker is hire for character.

"The way we find and train people, you can teach anyone to do anything if he or she has good character," says Martin. "And if the good-character employee actually moves on at some point, you won't be left in the lurch because the person won't just up and leave in the middle of a big project."

The construction industry will continue to evolve, and the needs of contractors will change with it. As a result, it is critical for organizations to be able to connect with the workforce of tomorrow, inspire them to strongly consider a career as a skilled worker and, perhaps most importantly, develop them into qualified employees.

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