The supply and demand curve of talent in the building industry will further bend in the wrong direction if things don’t change soon. That was a hot topic recently as hundreds of construction industry members gathered in Las Vegas for the Painters and Allied Trades LMCI Finishing Industries Forum 2014.

The panel focused on the pressure in the industry to retain and grow talent as construction demand increases.

“Over the next five to 10 years, we’re going to see extensive retirement, and the strength of their field leadership is crucial,” said Mike Clancy, principal at FMI, noting that 42 percent of the leaders in the field are over 50. “That’s the really scary part.”

In order to reverse that trend, or at least ease the impact, industry experts stressed the need to find and retain young talent that can advance into those leadership roles.

“It takes 10 to 15 years to develop a brand-new apprentice and turn him into foreman material,” said Tim Weiss, president of TJ Weiss Contracting in St. Louis. “We’ve got a big road ahead of us.”

Weiss spoke to attendees—contractors, in particular—about going out and finding the right employees for their company rather than the other way around. “The days of waiting for people to come to us—they’re over,” he said.

Weiss explained that the “true retention rate” in the construction industry is between 30 and 45 percent. His company, however, is working at a 90-percent clip in terms of retainage, so he discussed effective methods in that regard.

Among other points, he stressed the importance of working with—not against—the labor unions, particularly when it comes to recruiting. He’s had success with job fairs.

“We’ve seen labor step up and have career fairs of their own, invite several technical schools and high schools, and then invite contractors to come in, set up booths and talk to these students and prospective employers,” he said. “… As contractors, we’ve got to get involved.”

Weiss advised contractors to seek out talent at technical colleges for the simple reason that it’s a given they’re looking for work in the industry—and they also have financial ties to it.

“These kids have got a vested interest in it, because they’re paying for that education,” he said.

Different businesses have different standards and expectations, so Weiss suggested contractors “develop a list of traits and characteristics that you feel appeal to your company.” For Weiss, “character” is something his company puts a premium on with its employees. “Figure out what your company’s culture is, what you expect, and then go out and look for that.”

Ultimately, Weiss said it’s on the contractors to find the right people, and that the extra effort in the seeking-out process can prove invaluable moving forward.

“Go get involved in the community, try to recruit people,” Weiss said. “Think outside the box, be proactive, and get the people we want in our industry.”

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