How one Ontario construction company is using social media to recruit in a tight job market
Ken White Construction builds its business by building a following
Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook - today's communications landscape revolves around social media platforms, especially for younger people who have been plugged into the online world for years.
These new online communities are becoming a bigger part of marketing for business as well, and for one Ontario contractor social media is proving to be a driver of steady growth and a key recruitment tool.
Ken White Construction has been in business since 1968, when the company's namesake got started with a CASE track loader and a one-ton dump truck, digging basements and septic systems. Today, still based in Carp, Ontario, the small town where it was founded some 45 minutes outside of Ottawa, Ken White Construction has grown into a contender for many different jobs in the steadily expanding region.
The third generation of White family to work for the business, Ken White Construction Director/Business Development Taylor White explained that his grandfather Ken ran the business through 2000, when his father David took over. It wasn't until a few years back, though, that the company began to expand.
"Dad stayed at around three to four employees from around 2000 to 2017 or so. When I came back into the family business I decided I really wanted to expand and grow on the opportunities we had," White said.
Regional growth drives expansion
Growth came naturally for Ken White Construction, as Carp - a small rural community just far enough from Ottawa to remain relatively quiet up until the past few years - started to do just the same thing.
"Carp had maybe 3,000 people and now it's around 11,000 - it's crazy, the growth that's happening, and we're growing thanks to the demand for work," White described. "A lot of construction companies are growing because we're seeing this influx of people all moving here from either Toronto or other areas that want to move to Ottawa because our prices are a little lower."
Suburban growth along the Ottawa Valley is driving much of what Ken White Construction works on these days, White noted, with buyers looking for detached homes at reasonable prices and finding them in the smaller centres farther from the city. That is influencing much of the work that the company is involved in as well.
"It isn't so much a case of getting city contracts . . . we're moving farther up into the valley and specializing in new home builds, people that want to build homes on 5- or 10-acre lots that need land clearing, and then a basement dug, then we build the laneway and put their septic in, and backfill the house," White described. "That's what we specialize in - taking the customer from the roadway in."
Social media key in recruitment and marketing
Thanks to the steady growth in the region, Ken White Construction has grown to a staff of 18 at present, and there's no shortage of potential employees making contact regularly. Why? White credits a robust social media presence for the interest.
The company has accounts on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and various other places where White shares a variety of photos and videos showcasing what Ken White Construction and its employees are up to.
Browse through the YouTube channel and you'll find things like delivery of a new excavator, clips of daily work featuring various members of the crew, project features, and more. They're quite popular - some have views into the hundreds of thousands, and the channel itself is followed by more than 66,000 people.
Instagram adds another 22,000-plus followers, and on TikTok - the snappy two-minute video clip app - another 71,000 watchers keep an eye on the company and its team.
Videos are shot casually - usually by White himself, who has for years filmed and edited footage of himself and friends in their off time. "I always had a love for making videos of my buddies hunting or dirt biking - I was always the kid with the camera. So, I said, what can I do to grow this company? I decided to branch out and start doing Instagram and YouTube . . . that alone completely reshaped our business."
White's footage focuses on the people, personalities and activities taking place on the ground, on the road or in the pit. These videos and accompanying photos offer viewers a chance to see what it's like to work with the contractor and their team, and that provides a huge benefit when it comes to recruitment, White noted. It's especially helpful in countering the labour shortage that construction faces by reaching an audience that is ready and eager to work.
"If I tell people that I have no problem hiring people in 2021, they look at me like I've got four heads, saying ‘what do you mean? We can't even hire anybody to hold a shovel,'" White described. "I get maybe eight to 10 job applications sent to us a week, and we're not even actively seeking to hire people right now. Social media is exactly how we have been able to get in that spotlight."
Connecting to younger operators gets online boost
White's audience is mostly blue-collar 18- to 35-year-old males, and that's exactly the target demographic he wants to hire when the opportunity arises. That audience is looking to work, and is also connected to the internet in a big way.
"If you want to find the young people to bring into the industry to work for you, where are they? When they're waiting for the machines to warm up in the morning, they're on Instagram or TikTok or YouTube. When they're on coffee break, they're on Instagram or YouTube or TikTok. Same thing on lunch and when they get home at night," White said. "I'm there, so when they open their phones they see me, they see Ken White Construction, they see our team and what we're doing. That's how you get in front of them."
Being a family company in a small community makes it easier to put out the content White does - he once did social media for a larger company and found it was too difficult to navigate the corporate channels. That hurts them in the long run, though, White suggests.
"They need to change, and they need to adapt - they can, and they'll have to or else they will have nobody that wants to work for them," he said. "I want to see that change. I'm not doing it just for us, for me and my business - I want to see construction as a whole change and be more authentic, be more welcoming to different people."
As for his employees, White says they love being part of the company's social media presence.
"It creates an awesome culture. They'll be at Cabela's or Canadian Tire on the weekend, and they say people come up to them to say they love watching Ken White Construction stuff," he described.
Technology grows on job site
When you're finding employees through the internet, it makes sense that those employees are interested in exploring new technology on the job site. Ken White Construction is taking steps to do just that, White said. In 2021 the company purchased two new Cat excavators, both with 2D grade systems and auto dig installed - Ken White Construction has a strong relationship with Toromont and Battlefield Cat in the Ottawa region.
"We had two different older operators and they were dead set against it . . . that machine not only saves on jobs because I don't need to put a grade man out there doing septic beds or whatnot, but if we're doing a job where I'd generally have to rent out a trench box because the hole's seven feet deep, I can punch in my grade on the screen - the shovel goes down, it digs and nobody's getting in the hole, nobody's getting hurt," White said.
All of Ken White Construction's excavators are equipped with another piece of technology that White is excited about - Rototilt tiltrotators.
"We have two excavators, a 15-ton and a 25-ton, both with Rototilts on them. That's something we added just this year. Even the old guys who had some pushback to it can't believe what these buckets can do," he said. "We specialize in demolitions as well, and bought sorting clamps for these machines - what you can do with the clamps being able to rotate 360 degrees, up and down is crazy."
The company has gone paperless on job sites, opting instead for iPads through which employees clock in, handle safety sheets, and use for other tasks. It's not easy, White admits, either from a technical or team buy-in standpoint.
"The different expenses I have now aren't so much around printer ink, but my IT guy," he noted. "Setting all this up and converting from paperwork to what we're doing now was over the course of a year and a half, and it had a cost to get set up. Now that it's running smoothly and working well, we're seeing the return on it."
It also took some time to convince some old-school employees that paperless was the way to go, but even they have seen the difference it can make. That's an important step for contractors of all sizes to consider if they want to succeed.
"If you're not up with the times, you probably just need to sit back and let someone that does take over - because you have to. Same with social media. You might not want to do it, so hire someone that does, because you're going to fall behind," White said. "We live in a tech world - there's always better technology coming out, and it's more efficient for us. If you're not doing it, you're going to fall behind - you need to make the shift."
Maintaining steady growth
Down the road, White hopes to see the company's trajectory continue on the path it has been on the past few years.
"I'd like to see us keep adding quality men and women to the team, keep building stronger relationships with both residential and commercial clients, and get better and more efficient at our work," he said.
With social media powering recruitment and awareness, White said he has a plan in place to build the company up from its 18 staff to 100 within 10 years.
"It's super exciting, just knowing there's bigger stuff coming in the future with growth in social media," he said. "Those numbers keep growing, and the opportunities that come from it are really exciting."