Worker Shortage: More on What to Do

The skilled labor shortage is a national crisis. Any remodeler, plumber, electrician, framer or painter will tell you there’s a shortage of qualified workers to hire in any aspect of the building process. Pick any trade and the lament is the same — “I can’t find qualified help!” Instead, they may describe the last hired or the last fired as someone who performs some tasks well but has no common sense, thinks full time is six hours per day, can’t understand why four-letter words and poor hygiene might upset the clients, wants more pay without learning anything new, or can’t pour water out of a boot with the instructions on the heel. Your challenge is to figure out how to offset this reality. One surefire strategy is to keep the good ones you have. One way to encourage good employees to stay is to let them know they can advance within your business. For example, you can create a job tract that allows them to move from the field into supervisory and management roles. Many have promoted their capable, skilled worker to leadman or project manager only to have him fail miserably, or be miserable in the new position, or even become so frustrated, he quits. With better strategies, this can be prevented.

First, we need to recognize that moving from the field to management is a big leap that takes a whole different set of skills and perspectives. The new role is not so much about learning how to do new things, as it is about learning how to act, interact, and think and behave differently. The sidebar shows some examples of the differences.

Second, because being a supervisor often looks easier than it is, we need to be absolutely clear with people about the differences between the two roles. By giving people a true picture of what to expect, the employee can make an informed decision about whether or not to take the leap.

Third, we cannot assume that the highly skilled laborer has the skills and abilities needed for success as a supervisor. You have to be prepared to educate, coach, train, and support him in the new position, and you may have to do so for quite a while as he gradually become used to the new perspective and behaviors.

Fourth, because it might not work out, we need to give people an elegant way to step down from a management position. Consider offering the new position as a six-month trial. Let them and their co-workers know this is a trial experience, with an option to return to the field if it is not a good match for either party. Finally, make the top pay for skilled labor more attractive. Often, the employee who loves being in the field, will try to make the leap to management not because they are interested in the new position, but because it is the only way to higher wages. Wages for field employees often cap out where supervisory and management wages start. Consider overlapping these salary ranges by having a top field employee earn more than an entry-level supervisor. In this way, good employees can stay in a job they love and continue to contribute to your successful company.