When you finally—somehow—found those skilled tradespeople you’ve been looking and looking for, your job isn’t over.

There’s more to getting the workers. You have to keep them. Your best skilled tradespeople can be poached by other contractors willing to pay a few dollars more an hour. Or, a new worker could quit over just about anything, this being the time of the Great Resignation. They didn’t like their assigned tasks of the day. The foreman looked at them wrong. Whatever—they knew they could easily get a job somewhere else.

The Associated General Contractors of America convened its inaugural National Construction Industry Workforce Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, at the end of 2021. The event brought together people involved in construction workforce development in some way—contractors, educators, union reps, etc.

Attendees broke into small groups to brainstorm. Here’s what they came up with on the topic of “retention.”

  • Several contractors noted that they have added new training programs for foremen and field supervisors to help with retention of new, younger employees. The programs focus on “soft” skills such as patience and communication. They are also designed to help front line leaders share their vision and work plan for the project, so younger workers better understand how they are contributing.
  • McCarthy Construction in Georgia has had success retaining craft workers nearing retirement age by moving them into “Field Coordinator” roles. These part-time positions provide more work/life balance—but allow the field coordinator to stay engaged and mentor new employees. The program has a heavy focus on training newer employees with less experience. The position offers more flexibility and more vacation days.
  • Some contractors spoke to the role mentorship programs have on the retention of skilled tradespeople. Some firms even boost mentors’ pay. Most new employees leave in the first two weeks of work, but having mentors make them feel welcomed and doing simple things like showing them where the break area is and eating lunch with them really helps. Supporting new hires during that first month is crucial. Mentors need to be willing and trained to be effective.
  • Finding effective childcare solutions is also key to retaining more workers. Some firms have worked with local employment agencies to secure grants to cover childcare costs. Other firms are looking at ways to offer craft workers the same flexibility they offer to accountants and estimators in the office.
  • A number of contractors rely on employee engagement surveys to gather feedback. These surveys let employees know they are being listened to. But it is also important to act on, when appropriate, recommendations in these surveys so employees know they aren’t just being heard but appreciated. Some surveys ask questions about the quality of their orientation program. Others ask employees what they want to accomplish or whether new employees have friends at work.
  • Firms that require workers to travel frequently endeavor to retain those employees by offering a bonus. For example, one firm offers a 20 percent bonus for anyone traveling for more than two weeks. They also offer alternating three-day weekends for those workers to spend time back home or fly spouses and family out to them.
  • Inclusion drives diversity. People feel more welcome, valued and appreciated when they know their perspectives and contributions are valued. Firms need to ask employees from disadvantaged groups what they are comfortable talking about and have intentional conversations around differences. Understanding is the first step to inclusion.
  • Don’t take your eye of the ball on safety. If workers don’t feel safe, they don’ter4trfg stay. Ensuring that your firm is doing everything possible to promote and deliver on workplace safety is key for many reasons, but also a clear factor in supporting employee retention, especially within the craft workforce.
  • Put in place a zero-tolerance policy for unacceptable workplace behavior. Just as most firms have a zero-tolerance policy for safety infractions, they need to put in place programs that make clear that inappropriate behavior is not allowed on the job site. As important is making sure all employees understand what inappropriate behavior is.
  • Put in place role-specific incentives instead of project-based ones. There are people working very hard on projects that end up not being successful. Meanwhile there are people who aren’t working very hard on successful projects. Instead of rewarding teams based on the success of the overall project, reward people for the success they are having with their specific tasks.
  • Workers want more than high pay—they also want retirement plans like 401ks and pensions and opportunities to improve their skills and advance their careers. Firms that offer these kinds of retirement programs and other benefits are often more successful in retaining their employees, especially if there is a minimum vesting period for the savings plan. Likewise, firms that provide opportunities for employees to learn new skills and advance their careers are more likely to retain employees, particularly those who are ambitious.
  • Put in place non-monetary compensation programs too. Many employees want greater flexibility, more training, and opportunities to lead or mentor. Newer workers need greater flexibility as they start their families, but they also want to grow and develop their skills and want opportunities to lead teams and share their skills.
  • Conduct periodic “stay interviews” with current staff. Similar to an exit interview, some firms are conducting “stay interviews” with every employee throughout the year to try and catch problems/unhappy employees before they find a new job and leave. They’ve seen success in identifying culture problems specifically and implementing changes to increase their retention rates.

Wrapping up

AGC of America concluded the summit with two challenges to all attendees. The first was to understand, appreciate and operate with the knowledge that they are not alone—look for opportunities to collaborate with other workforce development programs. The second challenge was to take at least one retention idea covered during the summit and implement it back home. Which of these ideas would work in your market?


Did you like this post? Check out How contractors can team up with local schools to reverse the skilled trades talent shortage

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