Hiring Roadmap: Recruitment, Ramp-Up & Retention

Alison SouthBlog

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A few years back, the board of the Construction Executive’s Association (CEA) agreed to make the March speaking program a highlight of women in construction. As the then Secretary and now President, I believe that although women may deliver the messaging in this program, the content must bring value across the entire membership. In other words, the messaging will obviously be driven by a women’s point of view but it will serve an aspect of the construction industry that affects all companies across the board, from subcontractors to developers.

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This year’s program took place during the first week of March and the speakers provided a Hiring Roadmap, speaking on recruitment, ramp-up, and retention. The war on talent is occurring in all industries but is a huge issue in the construction industry. With the influx of technology and the disinclination of students to pursue manual labor, the hiring pool has shrunk dramatically. One of our panelists, Peggy Marker, shared that the labor pool is so low that it’s the same as in the 1940s and that new hires will sacrifice salary for quality of life. It’s an issue that involves everyone rallying, not just HR managers. I’m hopeful that CEA’s involvement in Junior Achievement's Pre-Apprenticeship program will help move the needle here in our region.

Kerri Smith, the Vice President and Southeast Regional Manager for Baker Concrete (a national concrete company with over 7,000 employees) spoke on the intentional switch Baker has made in making their recruitment process focused on the candidate and how it affects them vs. touting the accolades of Baker. Peggy Marker, President of Marker Construction, spoke about the importance of finding people that were a good fit culturally, no matter what age. Jessica Chen who had been at Suffolk for over eighteen years spoke of their success in their Career Start Program, an internal training program that allows new hires to experience eight months each of three specific facets of the company - project management, field work, and estimating to determine the area that fit their personality and skill set best.

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Regarding the Ramp-Up discussion, all three panelists agreed on the necessity of mentorship. Jenny Rodriguez-Vargas, the Director of Human Resources for Advanced Roofing, indicated that A-players must feel productive right away once hired. Marker offered the importance of a good old-fashioned buddy system to help new hires learn the ropes. Smith indicated the importance of understanding Baker’s culture both ways during the first 24 hours so that both parties know what to expect from each other. Chen indicated that when onboarded in her new position with Swire Properties, the first week involved back-to-back meetings with upper management. Vargas reiterated the importance of hiring for fit and training for skill.
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Regarding retention, Smith shared that Baker has taken a more conversational approach vs. conducting check-box reviews for their team. She stressed that it’s important to empower employees to understand what they can do to grow within the company and that Baker University helps them achieve that. It was shocking to hear that Marker offers unlimited PTO to their employees as this is not mentioned often in the construction industry given the ongoing involvement of projects. There are some aspects that must be in place to allow the unlimited PTO to work, such as no more than two weeks being taken consecutively and all accountabilities must be complete prior to the PTO being taken. Chen discussed the need for ongoing top-down goals communication to make sure that people at every level of an organization are aligned. Another aspect of Marker Construction that Peggy shared was that they allow their employees to have a voice in the direction of the business. This is something that we strive to do at JTI as well!

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Vargas shared that the cost of a mishire is anywhere from 20-30% of an employee’s base salary. As such, there must be a high level of intentionality around onboarding new hires. All panelists agreed that a company’s culture must not be compromised in filling a position. It was an insightful and engaging conversation as our membership had many questions to move the conversation along!