This article was contributed by Volodymyr Barabakh, the Project Director of residential construction company Fortress Home.

A survey carried out by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 72% of construction companies see staff shortages as their biggest hurdle to growth in the near future.

The return of migrant workers to their home countries as a result of the pandemic, and construction and skilled trade professionals retiring at a greater rate than they are entering the workforce are the two main reasons for current labor shortages according to The Homebuilders Institute.

Although there are undeniably more staffing pressures than usual on the construction industry, this need not be a barrier to growth for construction companies. Rather, it should be seen as an opportunity for such companies to explore new hiring practices, and to review and refine their current ones.

We will now look at some of the more innovative ways that construction companies can find “hidden” talent, and some of the talent retention strategies that can be implemented to ensure that you never go wanting for staff or subcontractors for projects.

Work directly with trade schools

Although there has been a lot of studies that suggest that the number of US citizens training to become construction professionals has declined in the last 10-20 years, this by no means entails that there are no young people entering the industry. Rather, we need to work a bit harder to find them.

To secure young, inexpensive talent, construction companies and general contractors need to work more closely with trade schools. A few ways that they can do this include:

  • Funding scholarships and apprenticeship programms for local trade schools
  • Running classes that teach trade students some non-technical skills that are needed for a successful construction career (such as networking skills, bookkeeping and expense management). This can help build relationships with students themselves.
  • Collaborating with trade schools to find pathways to employment post graduation – the creation of an intranet job platform for example.

Many trade schools struggle with the career support side of their operations. This gives construction companies ample opportunity to create win-win programmes that can give them first options on young professionals for years to come. Additionally, improving the percentage of skilled trade students who find employment straight after graduating can increase the number of people entering in the industry in the long-term.

Recommend and get recommendations from other contractors

It is not healthy for one or two construction companies to hoard all the subcontracting talent in a geographic area. This creates a monopoly market, pushes down wages for subcontractors and makes it harder for younger talent to get work. All these forces in conjunction with one another will only increase the labor shortage in construction.

Rather, construction companies should be encouraged to share good subcontractors with their local competition. Companies with true confidence should not worry about competition. Better competition raises standards which in turn increases consumer confidence and demand.

Recommending subcontractors to other local construction companies should, in the vast majority of cases, lead to reciprocal sharing the other way. This makes you less likely to struggle to fill staff positions in the future. Developing a reputation for recommending subcontractors to other companies will also make talented subcontractors want to work for you, as they know that this will likely lead to more work in the future. Such demand can greatly reduce the amount of time and resources needed to fill subcontractor positions in the future.

If you aren’t completely comfortable with recommending talent to your direct competitors, then you can try and build these relationships with companies who also employ such roles but that are not in direct competition to you. Obvious examples of this are a commercial construction company sharing talent with a residential construction company, or a design and build company sharing talent with renovation specialists.

Develop your digital recruitment channels

Although the majority of construction companies use some digital job boards, the efficiency in using these can be improved in a lot of cases.

Too many construction companies use one or two job sites thinking that they have the best candidates visiting them.

Rather, companies should use as many relevant job platforms as possible, seeing each job posting on each platform as a passive “asset” that can gradually attract candidates over time. Developing a uniform “hiring funnel” across all of these platforms can allow you to attract new talent steadily and with as little time cost as possible. Setting up your online hiring processes in this way can also allow you to scale up easily if you have a sudden glut of projects.

Keeping your current talent fully engaged

It’s worth matching the effort and resources that you put into finding new subcontractors with putting in procedures to keep past subcontractors eager to work with you in the future. The key to this is twofold:

  1.  You should ensure that subcontractors have as good an experience as possible.
  2.  Subcontractors need to be kept updated with any work opportunities that arise.

Achieving the first of these is about getting the little things right with project management. This includes

  • Making sure your site is safe
  • Making sure that subcontractors have all the tools and provisions they need to do their job(s) properly
  • Setting realistic timeframes for work
  • Paying invoices on time

Keeping your projects and payments organised with task management software can help ensure that subcontractors can thrive in an organised and efficient work environment.

To keep subcontractors engaged, it’s important to keep a database of everyone you have worked with in the past, and segment this by expertise and location. This can allow you to quickly let staff know of any job opportunities as soon as they arise. Having a private database of high quality labor can give you a true competitive advantage over other construction companies in your area.