A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

The War for Talent – A Key Contractor Advantage

The following article originally appeared in the January newsletter to clients of FMI Corporation.  Reprinted with permission.

The war for talent continues and exacerbates.  Many industries seek the logical, orderly minds that are the hallmark of our industry’s best project managers and field leaders.  Work in all companies is trending to be more project-based.  Many companies in other industries have also discovered the work ethic, the ability with tools, and the problem-solving magic of “farm boys.”  Medical schools are among our new competitors; the dexterity with tools and the common sense of these young people make for great surgeons and realistic diagnosticians.  Many now fish in one of our historically best ponds.

These realities force us to get better at recruiting, at telling our story, and at articulating the benefits of working in our industry or at our company.  We have so many advantages.  Our work is interesting and critical to our community; it has visible human purpose, which appeals to millennials.  We build those structures where our neighbors work, worship, learn, heal, celebrate and play.  Our work is ever-changing and challenging.  Most of the time, we are building “one-of-a-kind” structures, out in the weather, for a fixed price, over a rigidly defined time frame.  It takes real competency to do this year in and year out.  Our technology is exciting too.  We now use phone-based apps everywhere, drones, virtual and augmented reality masks, Wall-Bot sensors and, increasingly, XO suits that give us the strength of Superman.  We have as much to offer career seekers as any other industry.

We have one major advantage, too – one that we often overlook, one that differentiates us, in most cases.  Most construction companies are privately held corporations, often family-owned.  Many have been in business for two or three generations; several, beyond that.  Many have become solid organizations with defined divisions, multiple levels of leaders and managers, detailed financial reporting, and an inclusive annual budget process for operations and capital expenditure.  These firms increasingly have career paths, formalized training, and coaching and mentoring for most roles.  They have structured compensation plans with short- and long-term incentive plans.  Continuity thinking pervades the senior leadership team; succession planning is an ongoing imperative.  Opportunities to purchase equity can occur.  They are as sophisticated as any public corporation, but with a major, positive differentiator.  They are not slaves to the quarterly earnings reports and an unrelenting mandate to increase shareholder value in short-term increments.

What a difference this makes in the culture of the reorganizations.  Most of these privately held companies build their cultures on values reflecting how they will treat employees and customers, not on daily stock prices and insatiable shareholder demands.  They realize they will grow shareholder value over a longer time horizon by delivering their projects, year after year, on time, in budget with quality workmanship, not by financial engineering or manipulation.

As a result, successful privately held companies have much more predictable and stable environments in which to build a career.  These companies know “who we are and how we behave,” FMI’s definition of culture.  In public companies, “who we are” can change frequently, as directors bring in some new wizard, and “how we behave” is exclusively financially driven, in most cases.  For the solid, hardworking, career-seeking young person, established, respected construction organizations are the best option.  In this escalating war for talent, we have an often overlooked, yet very powerful, weapon.