Winning Strategies in the War for Talent

(Published in Construction Executive, June 2016 issue)
A top concern for most construction companies is the future of the workforce, including both field and office personnel. During the last several months, contractors have seen an increase in bidding opportunities with less competition, along with increased gross margin, which indicates a growing need for personnel. When the economy was in a downward spiral, many construction workers left the industry and haven’t returned. Plus, overwhelming numbers of workers are retiring and fewer people are joining the industry. All of these factors have combined to create a war for talent.

Companies can use several strategies to help retain current employees and attract new ones.

Evaluation and Feedback 

Winning companies have an evaluation process in place for employees and provide them with regular feedback. A formal evaluation process gives employees an opportunity to check in and see how they are performing relative to their individual goals as well as the company’s targets. Although the evaluation process may take place once or twice a year, it’s important to communicate frequently with employees by providing feedback on an ongoing basis.

While “feedback” may be considered code for “criticism,” employees often need advice and support. The challenge is to know when and how to use each effectively. According to the Center for Creative Leadership’s book “Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message,” a lack of objective feedback is the No. 1 risk for derailing a career. When offering feedback, the center suggests a ratio of four positive comments to every one criticism.

Mentoring and Training 

Increasingly, it is important to have a mentoring process in place for employees throughout the organization to help them achieve their goals. Mentoring provides new employees with a sounding board while enabling the company to transfer knowledge as well as share its culture. Understanding generational differences is important when pairing mentors. Today’s workforce consists of four generations, with Gen Y (millennials) predicted to be 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Companies are recognizing millennials’ work habits and are exploring how to attract and retain them.

In addition to mentoring, formal training programs are essential to ensure that employees have the skills needed to do their jobs and progress toward their goals. To address the workforce shortage, some organizations and companies are working with high schools to include courses, specialized training and internships so that students learn the skills needed to succeed in the industry.

Succession Planning 

Companies should have a solid succession plan in place. Will the leadership transition to family members, key employees or be filled from outside the company? If family members are involved in the business, it is important to assess whether they have the desire and skills needed to assume leadership. To mitigate the risk of losing them to the competition, it’s vital to communicate to key employees where they fit in the future of the company. They should understand the company’s expectations in order for them to progress in their careers.

Competitive Wages and Benefits 

As the available workforce shrinks, wages are likely to rise. Companies must offer competitive, fair wages and benefits in order to retain and attract talent. To ensure that they remain wage competitive, companies should benchmark against their peers and competitors when possible. Rather than an annual wage increase, some companies offer wage increases multiple times per year to show appreciation and increase retention rates.

Bonus programs offer an additional way to attract talent beyond standard wages and benefits. In fact, companies are looking to increase variable compensation as a greater amount of total benefits. Many types of deferred compensation and profit-sharing plans are available.

Benefits offer another opportunity to compete. Some companies are creating boutique cafeteria plans with choices of health insurance and disability insurance. In some cases, companies allow employees to purchase extra days of vacation or even offer a sabbatical to employees who have been with the company for a certain period of time.

Alternative Scheduling

Alternatives to the traditional work schedule should be explored. Companies are offering field employees nearing retirement the opportunity to work a shorter workweek of three to four days in order to retain their expertise. As another alternative, companies are considering the possibility that some employees could work remotely. They offer sales personnel, office workers or estimators the opportunity to telecommute at least one day a week.

For Gen Y, work-life integration is extremely important. Rather than maintaining a separation of their work and personal life or even striving for a balance between the two, Gen Y tends to see work and personal life as one integrated whole.
As a best practice, company leaders should evaluate their specific needs as well as their current processes and policies to find solid opportunities for improvements that can help them win the war for talent.

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