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In his book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins states: “The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ is wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” The end goal is to have a robust organization that has the right people in the right positions, with a set of systems and a culture that keeps them in those positions and excited to be there.

However, contractors face the reality of not only an insufficient quantity of craft workers, supervisors, managers and staff for available positions, but also an industry that may not appear “sexy” enough to attract and retain mMillennials or the upcoming Generation Z.

There is little debate that the construction industry has challenges competing against other industries for new talent. A recent article on Insulation.org referenced a poll of high school students on their career choice options. “Construction worker” ranked 247 out of the 250 options presented. Interestingly, craft workers were asked if they would encourage their children to follow in their footsteps, and 70 percent said no.

Couple that with Construction Industry Institute (CII) research findings that “contractors with an employee retention rate of 80 percent or higher realize increased job profits, complete more projects on time or ahead of schedule, and have better project safety performance,” and the building and construction industry has a strong argument for why it’s so important to retain employees.

Many companies address retention by treating the symptoms of turnover, which often show up as employee complaints, unresolved disputes and the overall malaise that appears before an employee decides to give notice. However, many contractors aren’t getting to the root of the problem to achieve the employee retention they seek.

Focusing attention on human resources increases the probability that business owners will not only improve their employee retention rate, but also have a higher percentage of employees they actually want to retain.


Strong employee retention begins at the beginning—with hiring and recruiting. Many companies still rely on the traditional hiring process of collecting and sifting through a couple hundred resumes, a screening interview or two, and a generic background check. However, ramping up recruitment to purposefully include both “push and pull” recruiting strategies and assessments may improve a firm's chances of initially getting the right people on board.

The recruiting process can be active or passive; companies can reach out to candidates or sit back and let them come. Push activity, or active recruiting, reaches out to the target prospects. This includes using recruiters, mailers, targeted high school and college career fairs, and referral follow-ups.

Building and construction recruiters are beginning to see the value of using social media options (another push activity) when searching for the next generation of employees. A blog post by Todd Yerman, business development manager at HART, Maumee, Ohio, discusses the new world of social recruiting for the building and construction industry. He contends Facebook and Twitter are sites to build community by highlighting corporate culture and marketing an ideal working environment, while LinkedIn can be a powerful social recruiting tool, especially when leveraging the business account upgrades.

Using traditional pull activities, such as advertising on search engines, the company website, and in newspapers and journals—in conjunction with more active push activities—creates a complementary approach to focused recruiting.

“Most managers hire for skills, knowledge and background. Then they fire for behavior,” says Bruce Hubby, founder of PDP, Inc.,  a Colorado Springs-based company that provides assessments for businesses. Hubby contends that construction companies would be much more successful if they were to hire for strengths that match the requirements of the position and then train the person with the skills to do the job.

This approach aligns with the realities of the industry. How many times do employers terminate an employee because he or she does not know how to do the job? More often, the employee is terminated for some behavior—tardiness, laziness, lack of attention to the job or poor work ethic. If this is the case, then creating a more detailed hiring profile on the front end of the process could positively impact a company’s ability to retain the best employees.


Hiring and getting the right employees on board is an essential first step to creating a strong workforce. Retaining that workforce requires a variety of strategies, including onboarding and training, opportunities for increased work challenges, purposeful engagement and appropriate compensation.

Most organizations understand the need for onboarding and training new employees, even though most would admit they could do a better job at it. For example, management training is often overlooked. Poor or no management training can affect how employees view their bosses, positions and roles in the company, which can negatively affect retention rates. Moreover, recruitment can be negatively affected if employees who are unhappy with the work environment speak with potential hires. Proper training for managers on both leadership skills and employee expectations creates an essential framework for a company’s workforce.

Being valued at work rates the same as, or higher than, compensation in many surveys. Employers agree there is value in promoting from within and that they want their employees to take on more challenging work or higher-level positions as they grow and learn. However, many fail to provide insight to employees on how they might work to achieve this goal. By communicating with employees regularly on their performance and providing a clear path for advancement and more responsibility, executives increase the probability of keeping employees engaged and invested in both their own professional growth and the company’s.

It is true that “employees do what they are compensated for.” Compensation needs to be in line with the position and the expectations for that position. The balance between a rewarding salary and industry-competitive compensation is on the mind of most new hires and current employees. If employers want to retain their employees, it should be on their minds as well.


A Cornell University study estimates the cost of losing a single employee to turnover is 30 percent of an hourly employee’s yearly salary and 150 percent of a manager’s salary. The total cost of terminating an employee includes a number of administrative separation costs, the cost of replacing the employee, onboarding and training costs for the new employee and—specifically challenging for the construction industry—the time costs of having open positions (downtime) during a project or a number of projects. With that in mind, it makes sense to focus efforts and resources on retaining, rather than constantly replacing, the workforce.


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