The landscape of our workforce is changing as older craftsmen retire and a younger, more diverse population enters the field. As the construction industry bounces back, recruitment will go up, creating a greater need to entice young talent and to ensure they are well educated and ready to take the helm as our next generation of leaders and experts. 

The Times Are Changing

Lake Mechanical was founded in 1945, and over these 67 years, we’ve seen our industry grow and change, and we’ve changed with it, from a basic plumbing company to a complete mechanical contractor with HVAC and process piping services.

To stay successful, we’ve adapted our business and the same holds true regarding our evolving workforce. Within 15 years, 40 percent of the current workforce will be eligible to retire.  Our company is based in Florida, a state that lost 250,000 skilled construction workers, due to the recent recession.  No matter where you work in the U.S., without a forward-looking recruitment strategy in place, you will not be able to find or retain skilled workers.   

The current workforce is more diverse with a growing Hispanic population and more women entering the trades.  In terms of age, Millennials (the generation born between 1981 and 1999) possess different values and motivations.  In my experience, Millennials determine their career paths earlier than other groups. They also want to receive information quickly, hence their interest in social media. This mindset is quite different than the mindset of Baby Boomers (my generation, born between 1946 and 1964) who have typically sought a good paying job without a need to know every small detail about the future. While it can be said that older generations influence emerging generations, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are working with a different group of people, with different strengths and values.

Our craftsmen and a number of our project managers and superintendents are increasingly “millennials” who possess great work ethic and their own unique skills. 

The Changing of the Guard

Knowing your workforce’s strengths and understanding your business environment is key to maintaining the effective management and longevity of a company.  Look to your company leaders and empower them to identify and build the skillsets of less experienced, but high-potential employees.  In an employee-owned company such as ours, our team is the future of the company. A succession plan that gradually delegates responsibilities to up-and-coming employees helps to ensure continued success, as well as loyalty to our business

Your younger staff could be your future senior team, but they need continued mentoring to stay interested in their current positions and to develop into leaders.

Your younger staff could be your future senior team, but they need continued mentoring to stay interested in their current positions and to develop into leaders.  One-on-one conversations and leadership or personality tests can be leveraged to reveal an employee’s passions, strengths and work mentality; valuable information that can be used to hone their skills. At Lake Mechanical, we conduct quarterly assessments of our high-potential employees and we assign them a mentor.  Mentoring can be a major cultural shift for managers and companies, but it is important for your business.  Find an experienced employee that loves to teach and encourage them to share their knowledge with others. 

Employee Development is for Life

Employee development should begin the first day on the job and continue throughout an employee’s tenure with you.  This is why our company offers numerous training programs, including OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 training, medical gas certification programs, and advanced project management and superintendent training. Lake Mechanical stays competitive by ensuring our employees refresh their skills and sharpen their talents.  

With a smaller and smaller pool of younger applicants (we often compete against general contractors for our workforce), industry vendors can’t afford to wait until a potential recruit graduates, to gain their interest. From participating in career fairs for middle school and high school students, to educating the next generation of skilled workers, there are a number of proactive ways to ensure that our workforce remains healthy. For example, Lake Mechanical is a founding member of the Academy of Construction Technologies (ACT), an apprenticeship program that is certified by the National Center for Construction Education Research (NCCER). In addition to encouraging young adults to pursue a career in our industry, the academy offers students hands-on training and mentoring.  The program has been so successful, that many of our superintendents are graduates of the academy.

Best Recruitment Practices

Perhaps the best way to attract new talent is to become the “employer of choice” in your marketplace.  Solid benefits are always a good start on the road to becoming a star employer.  Just as important, though, is listening to the opinions and recommendations (the good and the bad) of your team (we hold regular “lunch box” meetings for this purpose). 

Our team understands the investment we make in each person. Our team is our family and we want them to know that.

When employees know that you care about them, they tell their friends in the industry, and soon, word-of-mouth helps do the recruiting for you. I’d also recommend rewarding employees for any new hires you make based on their referrals, thus providing them an extra incentive for finding qualified talent.

If you already offer a competitive benefits package, make sure that your employees understand its value. Not all of us are “numbers guys” in this industry, and it’s difficult to see the value of a health care program, ESOP or 401k without having the details and monetary benefit spelled out in plain English. That’s why our human resources team has created explanatory pamphlets to educate our team on the great benefits we offer.  In doing so, our team understands the investment we make in each person. Our team is our family and we want them to know that.

In addition to working with local schools to find new talent, don’t neglect trade organizations or other groups that could be a good fit. And don’t forget about the men and women who have served our country. Veterans often have great logistical know-how and a steadfast work ethic. By inquiring with your local Veteran’s Employment Services office, you can find a number of former service men and women who could be great assets for your team.

 

Tom Sherman is the president of Lake Mechanical Contractors Inc., Eustis, Fla.  He can be reached at (352) 357-3136 or by email at tsherman@lakemechanical.net.

This article is based on the presentation: Build Your Commercial Workforce through Training and Recruitment, which Tom Sherman delivered during the 2012 Mechanical Systems Week in Chicago, IL. Comfortech 2013 will be held Sept. 18-20 in Philadelphia, PA. For show information, visit www.hvaccomfortech.com