Retain to maintain

Contractors across the country are facing a multi-faceted problem: Baby boomers are retiring; the industry has shrunk, primarily due to the economy; and, finally, fewer people are coming into the industry, resulting in a worker shortage. National labor statistics project between 1.5 and 3 million job vacancies in the construction industry, and 25 to 30 percent of the workforce will be 55 years old by 2020. “Keeping the employees you have has become one of the biggest primary objectives for most contractors,” says Brad Humphrey, president and founder of Pinnacle Development, Granbury, Texas.  

“Most contractors do not have a strategy for retention,” Humphrey continues. “The first thing you have to have is the desire to do it. Number two is developing some sort of strategy. It has to be about changing the workforce to build a better culture of values to get people excited to be a part of your company so they want to stay. If a contractor will work on that just a little bit, it will make a big difference in their organization.”

Benefits and incentives

Greg Antonioli, GCP, president of Acton, Mass.-based Out of the Woods Construction and Cabinetry Inc. believes in maintaining good employee benefits. Not only does he offer a respectable pay scale, he also provides vacation time, paid sick time, company holidays, health and dental coverage, and a 401(k), among other benefits. “We just got a job because the client told me one of the things that spoke to her the most was how well we treated our employees,” he says. “She looked on our website, saw the benefits package and said ‘I want to work with a company whose employees are respected.’”

From a financial benefit perspective, Humphrey encourages contractors he works with to offer new hires a bonus if they stay 90 days, 180 days or a full year – whatever the contractor decides works best for his or her company.

Antonioli currently has four employees in the field. One has been with the company for 10 years, two for nine years and one for two and a half years. “It’s not just about keeping people,” he says. “It’s about keeping good people.”

Environmental concerns

“You can always use money to incentivize people, but that doesn’t last long,” says Humphrey. “If you don’t have a good work culture where you’re involving people with the workplace, or if you don’t have a workforce that accepts new people, then money is nice but you won’t keep people. I work with contractors to spend more effort on being available to new workers and to coach existing employees on how to receive a new employee.”

Welcoming a new person can be something as simple as asking about their family, hobbies and interests or other actions such as inviting them to lunch, getting them involved with community service events or a company softball league. “Get them involved with those kind of social activities as soon as possible because that’s where you get to know the other people in your company,” Humphrey says.

Antonioli speaks about the importance of creating an environment in which the worker isn’t stressed out about life issues such as bills or illnesses, which he says is ubiquitous in the industry. “You don’t want that element walking into a client’s house,” he says, referencing how an employee’s attitude affects the client. “It seems intangible, but it’s very tangible – the client experience.”

Antonioli also is careful to not pit company and client interests against each other. “Don’t put employees in situations where they have to go against their conscience,” he says. “Don’t make employees make difficult choices between company interests and client interests. You should have a real culture of customer service. That’s what everybody wants to do; they want to make the client happy.”

Transparency and honesty

Antonioli runs what he refers to as an open-book company. “There’s no mystery about where the money is going,” he says. “I think that goes a long way for employees to understand and trust. Everybody talks a lot about transparency with customers, but it has to start with employees, especially if you want them to perform. They need to know the metrics about what drives company success.”

He continues, “In an open-book scenario, ideally the people who aren’t performing can’t hide. I tell people they won’t have to answer to me; they’ll have to answer to their coworkers. They can tell me in an interview they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, but people don’t get fired here. They get voted off the island. If they’re not up to snuff in a short period of time, people will come into my office and let me know.

“One of the best benefits you can give is not making people work with unqualified, lazy people,” Antonioli says. “Don’t put people in situations where they’re not working with a true peer.” 

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