The fact that most construction firms are struggling to find qualified people is old news. To be sure, much of the blame for the labor shortage problem can be laid at the feet of the Great Recession, when job demands changed dramatically and many downsized workers left the industry for good. The trouble is, these workers have yet to be replaced with workers of equal or better skills. So what can be done? The industry has responded to the challenge by treating it as an “asset” problem. Applying the same principles they would to a construction project, employers have brought a hammer-and-nail solution approach to something that requires more thought and consideration. Companies are putting big dollars into training programs focused on sharpening employee skills and competencies. But just how effective is all of that training?
Research from our recent Talent Development Survey shows that 53% of employer survey respondents don’t track return on investment for employee training (Figure 1). Oftentimes, training isn’t even tied to performance metrics or career plans. In fact, career plans rarely exist. And in many cases, junior employees lack the skills needed to do the job.
As one of my colleagues, Ethan Cowles, principal and productivity expert at FMI, explained, “I often see young construction professionals who lack basic hard skills and business knowledge. There’s just nobody there to teach them how to put together a budget or a schedule. You can’t just learn these skills by yourself behind closed doors by completing an internal online training course. And then these people are held accountable for things they don’t even comprehend.”
While training is important and has its place, if it’s not offered as part of a well-designed, individualized career plan, it becomes a way of paying attention to human doings rather than considering employees as human beings. It sometimes seems like construction firms just want to check off the training initiative from their to-do list and convince themselves that they are making a commitment to their people. This won’t work if the industry wants to attract and retain a new workforce.
Pressure on construction firms is already increasing with young employees challenging the traditional career and business paradigms. Findings from our 2015 millennials study (see “Millennials in Construction: Learning to Engage a New Workforce”) confirm this notion. Of survey respondents indicating that they understood their career paths and opportunities within their firms, 81% expected to stay more than five years at their company. Conversely, of those respondents not expecting to stay more than five years, one-third were unsure of their current roles, responsibilities, and expectations. This isn’t necessarily a generational or age phenomenon. Rather, it seems that aspirations – more than age – dictate whether people remain with their companies or move on. From our research, it is evident that millennials care as much as older workers about career opportunities and getting ahead.
Looking ahead, the construction industry must redefine the role of human resources to a much broader approach that gives top human capital executives a seat at the senior leadership table. Tomorrow’s successful construction firms will find ways to combine the strategies, practices, and processes needed to overcome human capital obstacles and create a sustainable competitive edge for their organizations.
From hire to retire, employees should be aligned with the organization’s overall strategic goals; leaders need to make these goals a reality. Developing and engaging employees – as well as managing their performance and providing clear direction for their careers – are critical steps, especially for someone who wants to do more than just punch a clock and take home a paycheck.
By listening to their younger workforce (and recruits), and by factoring in their individual career aspirations and plans, construction firm leaders can develop personalized development programs that help strengthen the entire organization and engage their whole workforce for the long term.
As one millennial survey participant stated, “Throughout the year, I am able to sit down with my senior manager and discuss my performance. I am able to outline how my individual goals tie in with the mission and vision of the company.”