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Subcontractor Tips for Finding and Hiring Employees


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The specialty construction trades accounted for over 62% of construction hiring in February. With all that hiring going on, there is bound to be some pain points.

Here are ideas for taking away the pain:

Pain Point: Potential recruits not following through.

It’s hard to understand. You find someone who looks as if they’d be a great employee. Their resume and hiring information shows they have the right skillset, but after initial contact they never set up an interview appointment, or, they do an interview, but don’t accept a job offer.

Cure: Assess your company’s attractiveness as an employer.

You can’t please everyone, so accept there are people who won’t work for you regardless of the benefits and pay. But for everyone else, there are things you can do to make your company more attractive as an employer. Start with the basics:

  • Take a close look at your pay and benefits to see whether they are similar to what your competitors offer.
  • Look at your project history and current backlog to assess the strength of your steady employment offer.
  • Assess your training and other factors that can help employees with career advancement.
  • Look closely at your business infrastructure and assess not only the working conditions, but also the quality of tools, equipment, and technology.
  • Consider your management and leadership to see where there are shortfalls in quality, commitment, and experience.  

Address the places where you find deficiencies, and for those instances that will require more time to address, point out to potential recruits how you are changing things.

Pain Point: Not finding potential recruits with the necessary skills.

There are some skills that have a chronic shortage of candidates. These include construction laborers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, welders, and equipment operators. These shortages, however, are not solely linked to not enough people available. There are also systemic issues in construction and within the national labor force that contribute to these labor challenges. And, there are training factors like an over emphasis on four-years of college, and a reduction in educational opportunities for people who are interested in the trades.

Cure: Use multiple tactics and strategies for discovering likely candidates.

Use these tactics to immediately increase your pool of available candidates.

  • Offer incentives to employees for recommending potential recruits.
  • Pay attention to local, regional, and national labor news to get insights about the changing labor picture for closely related industries like manufacturing. These related industries offer a source of employees who are not only looking for work, but are easily trained for construction work.
  • Find out what others in your trade are doing to attract qualified recruits.
  • Get on social media, engage with people, and actively seek candidates by posting your job openings and asking those within your company to share the postings.
  • Search on state-run job boards for veterans and people with oil and gas industry experience.

Use these strategies as your more long term effort.

  • Try out temps and freelance workers to handle short term assignments with an eye for finding those who might become full time employees.
  • Partner with local trade schools to offer on-the-job training where you might potentially discover recruits.
  • Set up a regular event each month where you accept applications and interview candidates.
  • Partner with trade unions.

Pain Point: You hire someone, get them up to speed, and another subcontractor poaches them.

By most accounts, the war for talent is going to continue and there are times when you just can’t do anything about it. But for most of those other times, forget about relying on legal contracts like noncompete and nonsolicitation agreements. They are usually not enough on their own, they cost money to enforce, legislation often goes against them, and they stifle performance. There are better ways.

Cure: Use a strategy that combines awareness and action.

Most people who decide to jump ship do so after a trigger event. Maybe they didn’t get promoted, missed a raise, felt shorted on a bonus, or got a new supervisor who they feel isn’t as qualified as themselves.

When you get wind of it, try talking with the person about the reasons they are unhappy. Let them know you’d like to try to fix it, but avoid jumping to counter offering. If they are unhappy, a counter offer simply means you’d like to extend their unhappiness by making it more palatable. Most people would rather be happier. Instead, try to find a solution that will help the person feel valued while still acknowledging the value the business provides to them.

If someone does leave, make sure you pay attention to those left behind who worked closely with them. Sometimes one poaching leads to multiple poaches as another business looks to build strength in a specific sector of construction. You need to assess your exposure and work with those who are vulnerable.  

Pain Point: You just hired someone with all the skills, but they struggle to get the job done.

Unless there is a personal situation that came up between the time they were hired and when they started working, it’s a good possibility you need to improve your selection process.

Cure: Stay focused on the skills you need and the candidate vetting process.

Use clear, concise job descriptions that aren’t written as if the person must be a jack-of-all-trades. Many companies write job descriptions that no person could humanly handle. In the interview ask leading questions so you get an idea of how they handle stress, what makes them unhappy at work, and how they view their career. Be thorough about reviewing their work history. Is it complete? What is the depth of their job knowledge and experience?

Although it is widely stated, you’d be surprised how many companies fail to use appropriate means in checking out potential employees. It’s very important to use a thorough and expansive process, and not to eliminate or include a person based on singular aspects of their past.

To avoid legal complications and find the best people for the job you are offering, consider involving legal counsel in setting up your candidate vetting process. To further safeguard your hiring practices, consider hiring a company that specializes in background checks.