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Labor Shortage: Finding Workers

Tips on how to attract the best employees

Finding Workers Main Image
Photo courtesy of Aegis Metal Framing

We are in a time when companies are having a difficult time finding people to fill the jobs they have open. This is especially true in the construction industry, where the current workforce is significantly older than the 18-22 year olds who used to be entering the field. With more high school teachers and counselors pushing students to attend two- or four-year colleges, fewer students are opting to go to trade schools and get their hands dirty with the education required to succeed in the construction industry. To fill the positions they need, companies are forced to compete against other companies for the available labor, while also taking slightly unconventional routes to find good employees.

Finding New Labor

Since fewer people are entering trade schools, fewer are also leaving trade schools with the knowledge and experience that construction companies used to depend on. Now companies are forced to find labor through different routes.

For example, in Chicago, where many of the jobs that Burr Ridge, Ill.-based Tuschall Engineering Co. Inc., a metal wall panel installation company, are involved in, the city requires a lot of minority participation. According to Jim Tuschall, president and owner of Tuschall Engineering, that can be a challenge because the local sheet metal union doesn’t come near to meeting the requirements for minority participation. “Our first source of finding new employees is calling the union direct,” he says, “and when they can’t meet the need, we end up hiring guys that we know through other employees, friends, family, other ethnic groups, and then get them into the union and then train them.”

To incentivize employees to recommend friends and family, Tuschall is planning on offering a $300 referral bonus to the employee whose referral stays for 90 days. “I think that’s a great idea to make sure you’re getting people who can talk your company up,” he says. “And the employees that are staying with you are your best resource for that.”

Todd Miller, president of Isaiah Industries, a manufacturer of specialty metal roofing products for the residential industry, based in Piqua, Ohio, notes that in the residential arena, unions are not usually an option to find employees. To support the contractors they work with, Miller says they’ve put up an installer recruitment website,, that their dealers can point people to.

“We tell [our dealers], ‘Your current workers are probably not in construction right now,’” he says. “They are guys who are driving Uber, they are driving Lyft, they are working fast food, they are working retail, they are working computer jobs, they may be sitting in their mom’s basement playing video games, but your guys are not currently in the construction industry.”

Photo courtesy of Garco Building Systems

Successful Recruitment Tactics

To find employees, Miller recommends contractors go as grassroots as they can. Miller’s company has created a series of postcards they give to its dealers to hand out and recruit people into the opportunity of construction as a career.

Tim Seyler, president and owner of S&S Structures Inc., a metal building erecting company in Blandon, Pa., says they occasionally still run newspaper ads, but not as heavily as they used to. They have, over the past two years or so, used billboards to advertise the company. Seyler says when a billboard company came into his office offering a special to fill some of their empty boards, the company took 10 billboards in his region for a month. They have since scaled down to one, located near their shop, to promote the company. While the billboards have only led to a handful of people inquiring about jobs, Seyler says his personal preference is to maintain exposure with the simple idea of exposure. “We have to keep our name out there,” he says. “Not so much the idea that I’m thinking the guy who’s in construction and is feeling bad about his day one day drives by that billboard and sees the name, but I’m thinking the repetitiveness of it will stick in somebody’s mind. Or maybe it’s a woman who drives by one day and is saying my son needs to call this guy, or my boyfriend needs to call this guy. So we’re going to maintain that, and we’ll have some small successes with it.”

Miller also recommends using Facebook as a recruitment tool, as you can put your company in from of people who show an interest in being outside or working with their hands. He also recommends directing advertisements to those closest to the target employee, such as their spouse, girlfriend or mom, who can in turn suggest construction as a career.

Seyler notes that his son started a Facebook page for S&S Structures a few years ago, and they’ve had some success. To promote the company, they post photos of job sites and do quick interviews with employees, asking why they work for the company and what they get out of the job.

“One of the promotions that we utilize both [on Facebook] and on our billboard is the image of a good-looking building with the comment, ‘Be proud of what you build. Be proud of what you did today.’ [We’re] trying to get that message out,” Seyler adds.

Employee and Applicant Screening

Once you have potential employees ready to interview, the question becomes, how do you know that he or she is a good worker? Seyler notes that in recent months, he’s begun doing online profile screening tests on all applicants. While he says they used to do it regularly 15 years ago, when the economy dried up and things got rough, they got away from doing the tests.

“Over the past year, I’ve probably hired 30 or 40 people,” Seyler says, and “less than half of them are here today anymore. And a large part of that was one of two situations: either their work ethic, attitude, they just didn’t come to work regularly enough; they didn’t get there early enough in the morning. We have an attendance policy that scores people with points if they don’t meet some certain objectives, and we lose a lot of people in that regard.”

Another concern that Seyler is trying to forego is hiring someone who can’t pass a drug test. “We do pre-employment screening, we do incident screening, we do random testing, and we still had a problem within the company where there were too many guys squeaking through the system,” he explains. Since regular drug users have figured out a way around urine tests, Seyler says they’ve begun doing hair tests, which are far more accurate and reach a bigger window of time.

“In our experience, the guys who succeed in this business are the guys who come to work, and at the end of the first day, as they climb into the truck and they’re headed out the driveway, are turning their heads, taking pride in what they built,” Seyler says. “And I tell my foremen all of the time, if that guy, after his first day, slouches down in the back seat and pulls his hoodie over his head, I want to know, because he’s probably not going to make it.”

Photo courtesy of the Garland Co.

Creating a Career Path

Once you’ve found the right people to hire, the goal is then to give them something to look forward to, a goal of a career with a stable company. So, how do you define and build a career path for ambitious, forward-thinking people? How do you bring people into the fold, while giving them a clear path for advancement?

For Tuschall, that means treating employees with respect and sharing accomplishments with them. And, giving employees a sense of pride in the work that they are doing allows them to see where they fit into the company. “We have a lot of pictures in our office, and in the shop we take pictures on a regular basis of projects being installed,” he says. “Anybody that comes into our shop can see themselves working on a project and getting the recognition that they were a part of it. He goes on to say that one of the local unions did a calendar of progress pictures of crews working on union jobs, and one of the crews was featured. “You hang that up in the shop, and you’ve got people who are very proud of what they do and accomplish.”

Miller says that working with Millennials can be exciting because they want to learn. “One of the things Millennials really like is a career path to success,” he says. “They want to know that if they learn this skill, they will be paid this. They want constant feedback. They want to know how they’re doing and how to improve.”

For Seyler’s employees, that career path to success goes through AC478, the metal building assemblers accreditation program from the MBCEA. “The core of that process is the development of your company management manual, which within that company management manual clearly lists and delineates levels of skill and experience and pay grade for employees to give them as they come in the door a clear path,” he explains. “So when they’re at level 1 or level 2 or level 3, they have the ability to look forward and see where they can go.”

Whether you’re using Facebook, billboards or local marketing through subcontractors, unions or the schools, there are a lot of ways to get people into the door of your company. Once you have found the right person, make sure they have a clear path of understanding what a career in construction means. And, as Seyler notes, “the key to success is having the right person in the right seat. Don’t try to put a person in a seat they don’t belong in, particularly when it comes to everything from entry level all the way to foreman.”