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First Day on the Job

A welcoming on-boarding process can help you retain workers for the long run

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Everybody remembers his or her first day on a job. It begins with excitement and a little apprehension, but most of us can’t wait to get going.

What happens at the end of the first day, though? For people looking to hire skilled workers and making sure they are successful, answering that question is essential to being able to address our labor shortage issues.

Let’s face it, the construction industry has a history of giving rookies a tough time. Old pros send the new guy out for sky hooks or point out that half the nails he fetched for you have the heads on the wrong end, then send him back for more. Most of these pranks are kind of dumb, but, if you need more suggestions, a quick Google search will supply you with all the semi-hilarious pranks you could possibly need. The trouble is that those pranks are little more than hazing, and they do absolutely nothing to ensure that the young worker will return on day two of the job he was excited to start. Let’s put that failure into perspective. You spent a lot of time looking for qualified workers, then you used company resources to ensure that the person you found would be a good fit, could do the work and had the right attitude. Finally, you sent him out to the job site, and there all your good work was undone because of old-school attitudes.

Pranking rookies is probably the worst of the first-day experiences. Even if your crews don’t do that, new workers often face taciturn employees who don’t talk to them, don’t ask them to join them for lunch or make sure that all the tasks the newbie does on the first day are crappy, dirty, nasty jobs.

That’s no way to ensure their success and help build someone to long-term employment, even a career in the trades.

There is a better way.

I recently read about the onboarding process at John Deere, the agriculture equipment manufacturer headquartered in Moline, Ill. In the book, “The Power of Moments,” by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors describe a first-day experience that ensures the new employee is excited about the job and feels incredibly welcome.

The day begins by having someone greet the new employee at the door and walking her to her desk, where a tall banner lets everyone know that she’s a new hire. Her computer background has a glamour shot of a piece of John Deere equipment and the phrase, “Welcome to the most important work you’ll ever do.” Her first email is a welcome from the CEO and includes a video message about the mission of the company. John Deere does all that on the first day as well as gives her a memento—a replica of the first plow made by Deere—and her welcome host takes her to lunch with other employees.

Most contractors can’t deliver that kind of experience, but we can all improve our first-day adventure for new employees. We want people to succeed because when they do, they improve our businesses. Employees who feel they’re doing important and satisfying work, who believe they’re welcomed and who can find personal connections with other employees are going to believe in our company and our mission. That begins on day one.

For an industry struggling with attracting qualified, skilled labor, making sure you get off on the right foot is essential to overcoming that challenge. Spend a little time thinking through what you want your next hire to encounter on his first day at your company. Make sure you communicate that to your team. At the end of the day, you want that employee to look back on the day with the same pride and excitement with which he began it.