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4 Tips for Onboarding Support Staff Who Don’t Have Construction Experience

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Construction companies need skilled workers both on the jobsite and back at the office, but skillsets are defined differently from job to job. For many administrative and support staff, knowledge of the construction industry is not always essential. That’s where onboarding comes into play.

“In accounting, for example, we're looking for an accounting background—education and experience—and the same goes for other positions,” says Daena Lee, human resources manager at GSI Service Group Inc., a Honolulu, Hawaii-based family of companies that focuses on environmental consulting and remediation, civil engineering and design, munitions and explosives of concern, military fuel systems installation and maintenance, and more.  

When hiring positions, like accounting, human resources, or administrative support staff, she says it’s more about the specific qualities that potential hires embody, such as being self-motivated and fitting in with company culture. Experience with construction is not always a first requirement, like education or computer skills might be.  

“Construction knowledge and experience is secondary to the experience related to their specific position,” she says. 

Once hired, company leaders and human resources managers should onboard these staff to help acquaint them with the company and their coworkers and to give them the tools to be successful in their roles. This can also include a crash course in construction. 

Onboarding for Success and Longevity

Successful onboarding often leads to employee retention, which is financially viable for construction companies. Recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new employees is one of a company’s biggest investments. The wasted time, missed deadlines, and lower productivity associated with employee turnover can be very costly. 

A well-designed and properly executed onboarding plan can help maximize that investment. Onboarding plans should go beyond a job orientation and training, and truly welcome someone into the company. Seamlessly integrating new staff starts with hiring the right people and supporting them every step of the way. 

These four tips will help you onboard staff so that they better understand their roles within a company, how construction projects work, and how they can be successful in their new jobs. 

1. Hire for the Long Term 

Lee says hiring is often subjective, rather than objective. It’s always best to hire staff that are a good fit with the company and its people. This is a crucial first step in successful onboarding. 

Sometimes the best hires come from referrals, she says. Having someone who understands the company is often the best person to identify others who would also fit in. 

“It’s about how easily the hiring manager can establish rapport,” Lee explains. “I think it’s just like meeting someone and in a conversation with them, you know whether or not you could like this person.” 

2. Lay the Foundation  

Laying a solid foundation with a new hire is essential in keeping them engaged and educating them about the construction industry. During onboarding, introduce staff to company policies, key team members, safety requirements, computer software, organizational structure, and more. Once they have the tools to do their jobs, new hires can gradually learn the intricacies of the industry as a whole. 

“The learning curve is not necessarily in the technical part,” Lee says. “It’s just knowing who’s who and who goes with what project. And, being able to keep track of all of those things.” 

Onboarding, she says, is mostly “just getting them in touch with the people they need.”

3. Go Over Company Culture 

Part of successful onboarding should include an overview of the company’s culture, vision, and mission statement. Company owners or leaders should discuss the company’s history and goals. This can put things in perspective for new hires and help them understand the big picture. 

“If you hire someone who’s a good fit culturally, who has the same attitude about work, about the project, it’s much easier to keep them and keep them engaged,” Lee says.  

Allowing people to bring themselves into the workplace and form bonds and friendships with coworkers helps employees feel like they’re a part of company culture. 

“The best thing that we can do in the company is stay out of the way and let these relationships develop that go beyond the task at hand,” Lee says. 

4. Lend Your Support 

It’s always a good idea to check in with new employees to see how they’re doing both with their workloads and fitting in with the company. Some companies have a probationary period for new hires to ensure that they are the best fit and have the skills needed to perform the job. When employees know someone is always around to provide guidance and answer questions, they will feel valued and feel loyal to the company. 

Solid onboarding processes help employees reach their full potential at a company much faster and encourage company loyalty. This is good for a company’s bottom line, especially as the construction industry is experiencing workforce shortages. 

Construction companies that are proactive when it comes to employee retention will be successful. Firms with high retention rates will be seen as more desirable places to work, gaining them a positive reputation that will attract top talent.  

Lee says it all goes back to taking the time to hire the best people and then supporting and educating new hires so that they can do the best possible job.  

“I’ve seen that the most successful hires are people who just want to do well and are excited about the challenges of a growing company,” she says. “They don’t mind when things are not prescribed or when everything is not all laid out.”  


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