Creating ongoing solutions for workforce challenges in construction will be an uphill battle, but luckily some of the best minds in the industry have now begun working on it in earnest in the Houston area.
The ABC Board of Directors has instructed its Industrial Committee to figure out, with specificity, what needs to be done to create a sustainable workforce going forward. Last week, the committee continued its work focusing on improving construction’s image and recruiting – not just listing problems, but more importantly, coming up with concrete proposals for the full ABC board to discuss and take action on.
After hours of discussion, the committee came up with a long list of recommendations which still need some refinement. Those proposals range from improvement of recruiting techniques to bolstering the quality of life for employees on jobsites. There was also broad consensus among the various industry partners in the room that craft professionals need to be thought of by employers as valuable long-term assets, not just workers on the current project.
The recommendations were many, so a few are highlighted here for you.
Multiple challenges exist in recruitment, including the fact that many human resource professionals rely on computer programs to sift through applications. While those programs are in some ways effective, many applicants are lost in the process because the computer programs often miss key attributes that might be noticed by the right HR professional. Not only should there be more resources for HR professionals, more must be done to share information about the available talent pool.
The industry must also do a better job of identifying skills that are transferable from other industries. As previously reported on Construction Citizen, many of the same people losing their jobs right now in the oil field services sector are fantastic potential candidates for jobs in construction.
A lot of focus was placed on improving efficiencies in the recruiting process and removing barriers. If owners and contractors can agree on a way to do it, one key provision of a successful plan would be a standardized pre-approval process for background checks. All too often, a person will qualify for a job but has to wait for 5 to 10 days for a background check to be completed. The reality is that many people cannot be without employment for one to two weeks.
When the background check is approved and the final offer is ready, the HR professional often discovers the recruit has found employment elsewhere. A lot of time and expense is wasted in this process. Members of the Industrial Committee focused on opportunities to satisfy the requirements for background checks through innovating the process to ease the burden on the “job seeker.” Under a standardized system, a person could be pre-approved for jobs in a similar fashion utilized under the TWIC card process, but with a more frequent renewal.
Another proposal the committee discussed was the collaboration of owners and contractors to create a “green worker” program in which a certain percentage of inexperienced helpers or journeymen could be allowed on a jobsite as long as they meet a defined level of safety training and skills qualification or technical training. For instance, certified welders would fall under such a program.
Regarding construction’s image, the committee agreed industry-wide standards for the kind of amenities on jobsites would go a long way to attracting more craft professionals. Things like the quality of the break areas should add to the overall satisfaction of employees. One comment made during the committee’s discussion was that many employees would rather make a little less in wages at a place where they have access to certain amenities than make more money at a place where they are not treated as well. Craft professionals should be treated to a professional environment.
Addressing a construction site’s amenities must be coupled with a message to parents, students, and the underemployed that lets them know about improved opportunities and compensation, job security, and dispels myths about unsafe job conditions and the notion that “all construction jobs are dirty.” As an industry, we have to tell our story.
That’s why none of this matters if we don’t share the news about opportunities in the industry with as many people as possible. Construction Citizen’s Craft Careers section is vital to the overall strategy. The Industrial Committee agreed that there should also be a mass media campaign, including television ads, radio ads, social media and more to get the word out.