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Own Tools and Transportation

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Back in olden times—days of yore—I used to read help wanted ads for construction workers, and invariably they included the phrase, “Must have own tools and transportation.” Contractors who needed workers placed an initial hurdle that any applicant had to pass before they even applied. If you couldn’t meet that requirement, you couldn’t get work. It was a great idea, and it made sense. Back in olden times.

In today’s labor environment, all the hurdles seem to be on the contractor’s side. I think there are probably some contractors out there who would, for the right person, be willing to teach him or her how to drive. If you found a focused, driven individual and who desperately wanted to learn your trade, how much would you do?

Of course, every company needs to have minimal standards, and every job has to have requirements, but how you put that in a message to the market has changed. Make no mistake, recruiting for qualified workers is all about marketing.

As an industry, we may be able to address the larger issue of the labor shortage (with a little help from society at large) but as individual contractors who have a gaping need, that doesn’t help much. You can’t wait for societal values to change so that going into the trades becomes seen as a good career move. You need workers now.

So, how do you do it? Marketing, of course. You have to build your brand and communicate that to the labor market. Identify your company strengths and recognize you’re in competition for good workers. Your competition is broader than just your direct competitors, of course. It includes other construction industries, such as residential construction, and other trades such as carpentry or plumbing. It even includes other non-construction industries such as automotive repair. And, even farther afield, data processing, hospitality work or pharmaceutical sales.

Your job in marketing your firm is to convince a universe of prospects that their best career options are to work for your company. That’s not an easy sell because there are some serious obstacles you need to overcome. Young people—your best prospects—generally view the trades as non-desirable careers. There may be lots of reasons for that, but none of them should matter to you. The only thing that should matter to you is convincing a prospect that your company—not your industry, not your trade, not your marketplace—is the best opportunity they are going to have for a great career.

It helps, in this case, to have a great company that is stable and full of great people who like working with each other, and like doing the work they do. So, that’s where I’d begin. Want to get great workers? Evaluate your company with a clear eye, and ask yourself, “Would I want to work here?”

After you’ve done that, survey your employees to find out why they like your company. That’s where the message you’ll want to communicate to the market will come from. If your company is full of people who like a bit of rough work, you want to make sure you’re not attracting prospects who are squeamish about a scraped knuckle. Don’t just assume that your construction company is like every other construction company, and all construction workers are alike. Find your company’s personality, and then try to attract like-minded people.

Your marketing strategy should be planned out and continuous. Never stop looking for good workers. And when you find a good source—such as a church or community group—farm that source like it’s pushing up gold-plated crops.