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The construction industry is facing a serious challenge. Its workforce is aging faster than any other industry in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and construction companies nationwide are looking to fill multiple positions. Companies are desperate for new talent because employees who have been with them the longest are transitioning out, and there is not an adequate pipeline of new candidates to take their place.

The BLS numbers tell the story. In 2002, 11 percent of construction workers were 55 and older, which increased to 20.7 percent by 2015, according to the Current Populations Survey. In 2005, 10.7 percent of workers were between 20 and 24, but that number declined to 7.3 percent in 2015. In July 2016, there were 214,000 construction job openings, according to the BLS, and the industry is projected to add 790,400 jobs by 2024.

These trends suggest that approximately 20 percent of all construction workers will retire during the next 10 years, and a total of 12 percent will be leaving the industry within the next five years. There’s one group that industry leaders are hoping will turn this situation around—the millennials.

How to Attract and Retain Millennials

New data from the 2017 MRINetwork Millennial Hiring Trends Study, however, indicates that misconceptions about what is important to millennials and a lack of urgency are preventing many employers from gaining traction with this younger generation. Despite these shortcomings, the study also reveals that recruiters expect companies to take a more strategic approach to attracting and holding on to top millennial talent in 2017. This requires them to gain a clear understanding of the factors that motivate millennials and foster their loyalty. So what can business owners do to ensure that they attract and retain this vital component of today’s work force?

1. Review the compensation package
According to the MRINetwork Study, millennials selected compensation and benefits most often (28 percent) as their top priority when considering a new job. Since the last economic downturn, young workers have not sought jobs in construction, and although construction in many sectors is back to pre-recession levels, the skilled workers are not. To attract and hire the millennial job-seeker, business owners must be ready to offer the kind of compensation that they can attract in other industries, which are also competing for them.

Similarly, to other generations of workers, millennials want meaningful work and a supportive company culture, but they are primarily looking for well-paying jobs and career advancement. Beginning with a well-defined incentive compensation system, business owners can effectively combine clear direction, quality feedback and tangible rewards to develop employees who are engaged and satisfied with their jobs.

2. Build a supportive company culture
Millennials want to feel their work matters and their employers appreciate them. Give employees the opportunity to come up with innovative solutions on the job, and call attention to their success. This generation also values community and philanthropic initiatives, so weaving in participation in charitable programs can also be a big draw.

Another effective strategy is pairing millennial workers with more experienced workers who not only want to be mentors, but also want to learn new skills themselves, such as social media or construction apps.  Finding a good mentor is important because, for many millennials, if they cannot connect with their direct supervisor in a meaningful way, they will be open to moving on even if they like the company as a whole.

3. Create a path to success
In terms of what has the most impact on the decision to stay with an employer, the MRINetwork Study indicates that for more than half of millennials (53 percent) it is career pathing—mapping of incremental progression to new roles in the company. With young, ambitious millennials wanting to learn and move up quickly through an organization, companies must develop and implement focused solutions around career pathing. By allowing the employee to outline their career goals and set achievable milestones that are mapped to those goals from day one, employers can contribute to their development and demonstrate to them how they can advance and progress in their careers, making it more likely they remain with the company long term.

As part of their career development plan, Millennials like gaining new skill sets, and diversifying their existing skill sets. In the construction industry, they want to be exposed to office and field work, in addition to different kinds of projects so they can determine what aspects of the industry they like best.  Long term, it’s important for them to see the whole picture.

Larger construction firms in particular often struggle with providing the career pathing that millennials look for because they are too regimented to allow upward career movement in a timely way. Companies have to review their processes and make alterations if necessary to demonstrate a proven track record in allowing people to advance.

Career pathing also helps to attract candidates to the company. It is an effective branding tool when used in marketing materials about your company and particularly in the interview process. When you are able to share real examples with candidates about how motivated employees advance in the company, the organization then becomes synonymous with the ability to advance careers, providing a competitive advantage that acts as a powerful draw for millennials.

4. Be aware of the company’s market reputation
In the MRINetwork Study, 40 percent of millennials said market reputation has the most influence on their impression of a company. Yet nearly half of the recruiters who were polled (48 percent) indicated that most of their clients have not developed an employer brand that is attractive to millennials. This disconnect demonstrates that employers still have a ways to go in terms of understanding how to appeal to millennials, and once they are onboard, how to leverage retention strategies that will keep them engaged and more likely to stay.

Savvy millennials look at more than online efforts to establish reputation and brand recognition. They consider the overall positioning of a prospective company in terms of how well the brand is known and respected, how it stacks up to its competitors, and its future growth trajectory. This means that companies need to distribute positive messaging about the company that focuses on competitive pay, market footing and reputation, and career pathing. Although the entire strategy shouldn’t be based on the organization’s online presence, it will need to be a key part of branding, since millennials are more likely to leverage a host of platforms like Twitter and Glassdoor to form their impressions.

5. Put technology to work for you
 Some progressive construction companies are using people analytics and internal employee benchmarking systems that link employee performance data to overall company performance. Providing these measures not only fosters healthy internal competition, but also aligns employees with the strategic goals of the company. By coupling these strategies, companies can effectively improve the best employees and provide specialized training to allow continued employee advancement—a key ingredient for engaging millennials.

6. Communicate a clear company vision
 A defined company vision is especially important to millennials kicking off their careers. By communicating the big picture, business owners can connect your vision to employees. This gives employees a clear sense of purpose and an understanding of how their efforts fit in the larger plan. When the company’s vision is inspiring and clearly communicated, millennials are more motivated to remain with your company than they are if they don’t understand or relate to the company’s vision and direction.

Jobs in construction are growing, as is the number of new entrants to the workforce. Companies can narrow the gap by adapting new approaches for attracting millennials. Like anything that is built, planning and preparation are key—building a pipeline of talent is no different. By focusing on the millennial segment of the talent pool, firms won’t just survive the labor shortage—they will thrive in the changing business environment.

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