Attracting and hiring good employees is, I think, a lot like what we do with our clients; it’s lining up expectations with reality,” says David K. Bryan, president of Black Dog Design/Build/Remodel in Salem, N.H.
Nevertheless, finding good employees is a challenge for many remodelers, judging from a survey recently completed by Qualified Remodeler. Asked about the quality of applicants, 82 percent of respondents find it fair to poor, while only 18 percent say it is good.
Further, 70 percent report that fewer than a third of applicants were qualified for the positions to be filled. Seventy-two percent of the survey respondents say the quality and skill level of applicants had decreased over the past five years.
Despite these negatives, conversations with successful remodelers suggest that finding qualified employees is not a universally bleak experience. In fact, established, well-organized firms may have an easier time of it, with their reputation attracting employees in much the same way as it attracts clients.
That’s not to say smaller firms can’t do well in personnel matters. “We’ve seen smaller companies that have strong people management systems in place even though they only have a handful of employees. The have job descriptions; they have a regular review process, and they have a recruiting program that keeps them on the lookout for good hires,” says Janna Mansker, partner, The Berke Group, an Atlanta, Ga.-based consulting firm specializing in employee selection, management and retention.
“They have all the stuff the big ones have,” she says. “They realize that they’re a lot more attractive to applicants when they have their act together on the people management side. They attract higher caliber candidates and get a reputation for a small company that works like a big company.”
One of the issues with smaller firms is that basically all the management and human resources activities are done by the owner, and there are probably a lot of other things he’d rather be doing than putting together job descriptions, doing reviews and training people, Mansker says.
However, she adds, there are a lot of people who will do HR on a contractual basis. They’ll audit files to make sure, from an administrative standpoint, that everything is compliant, and from a strategic standpoint they’ll help map a firm’s organizational structure, she says. She cautioned that if remodelers do look at outsourcing the HR function, they should look for a firm that can address the strategic and organizational issues as well as the administrative functions.
“It may seem silly if you only have six people to have an organizational chart, but even in a company that small I sometimes see that the lines of reporting are a little blurry; the owner may have hired someone for a supervisory role, yet that person is frustrated when people go around him to the owner, because the people below him don’t really see him as their manager,” Mansker says.
Dave Frye, vice president of Dover Home Remodeling Inc. in North Olmsted, Ohio, agrees with Mansker on the importance of reputation and image. “We’ve been around long enough and have established a very good name in the market, which I think has a tendency to draw people to us,” he says.
Frye noted that Dover, which had gross sales of $5.97 million in 2006 and employs almost two dozen people, is a “small organization that has a family atmosphere so there’s a sense of belonging,” a factor that makes it attractive to applicants.
Likewise, the company’s showroom, which serves to tell the firm’s story to potential clients, also sends a message to applicants about how the company likes to do business when they come in for an interview, Frye says.
He also noted that Dover has been in business long enough to have established a wide network of trade associates that tend to spread the word about how the company operates and its philosophies. Applicants have said they were recommended to the company because of its reputation, he related.