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Some solutions for finding skilled labor

The most obvious reason for the shortage is a lack of people coming of age with hard skills to replace the growing number of retiring baby boomers.

by Colleen Suo

The shortage of skilled labor within our industry is something we’ve been hearing about for quite some time. As the Baby Boomer generation nears and enters retirement age, a large segment of the workforce — across all sectors — will be leaving a gaping hole.

If owners and administrators are forward thinking and proactive, they have been assessing their own workforce (large or small) and hopefully have been taking adequate steps to begin to fill that gap.

During 2017 CONEXPO-CON/AGG, Bob Henderson, AED Foundation president, hosted a morning session on the topic with Jerry Randecker, president of Jordan-Sitter Associates, David Coe, senior vice president at Orion Talent (formerly Orion International) and Terry Marohl, ND State College of Science associate professor. Their focus was on equipment industry workforce challenges and what you can do to be proactive in meeting these challenges head on. Although they zeroed in on technician shortages, the methods and suggestions reviewed here can be applied to any recruiting and hiring program.

The most obvious reason for the shortage is a lack of people coming of age with hard skills to replace the growing number of retiring baby boomers. According to Henderson, technician recruiting in the past was done in farming communities, small repair and diesel shops. This supply chain is dwindling. Other reasons include technician demographics, cultural biases and lack of exposure in middle and high schools to the industry. When referring to demographics, Henderson remarked that students generally want to go “away” to school but most want to return home to work.

Cultural bias has been against learning a trade and pushing four-year (at least) degrees for over a decade. Henderson stated that a two-year degree could get the candidate out on his or her own and on a career path quickly. He also felt that the lack of industry exposure was the industry’s fault. “We’re not getting deep enough into the educational system” to expose the students to industry options at an early age. He also said the industry needs to employ collective efforts to reverse that trend.

Another factor mentioned was that high school CTE (career and technical education) program funding has seen a decline even with the signing of the Perkins Act. The fact is: Perkins Act money can go “into any vocation — most likely the ones that are lobbying their state capitals the hardest.”

It would behoove the industry as a whole to begin to focus on that task as well.

Although traditional methods of finding skilled labor can still be employed, there are challenges. Many of these challenges drill down to the fact that students are not informed of their options in the construction industry at an early enough age or that there are many rewarding and well-paying occupations to be found within our industry — from technicians to operators.

College job fairs and high school career days have been a good source in the past and will continue to be so. The industry, it was suggested, needs to begin in the middle schools now to pique the interest of the next generation of candidates.

Terry Marohl shared some insights into alternative recruiting methods that could be employed as we move forward. He suggested identifying and recruiting local individuals before they start college. Partner with the local high school or vocational school to see who might have an aptitude for a particular skill set your company regularly employs. They may already be familiar with your company and have ‘roots’ in the community — which will help with retention later on.

As for college recruiting, Marohl recommended attending “career fairs, not for graduates but for first year students that may be seeking summer jobs and may have an interest in your company.” He also recommended providing internship opportunities for students, giving you “the edge by developing a relationship with a prospect before committing to a full-time position. It gives both the student and you a chance to “test-drive” each other and allows you to build a relationship with the prospective employee before committing” to a full-time position.

It is also an excellent opportunity to experience the student’s soft skills — how well do they get along with the people in the shop or on the crew? Can they get to work on time? What is their work ethic like?

They get to experience first-hand what the job description entails — this is what we do, this is how we do it, this is how we conduct business, etc. Marohl explained some companies have a plan to provide paid summer work for students before they begin their college education. It is basically a chance to see if the student is a good fit for your company or if you are a fit for them. Sometimes there are misconceptions on both ends. This period may only be a few weeks and perhaps even more like job shadowing than actual work depending on the needed skill set, but the outcome could save the company future time and money as well as being an eye opener for the student.

Another effective technique is for the company to stay in contact with the student while they continue their studies and offering continued employment/training opportunities during breaks.

Another of the presenters during this session was David Coe. Orion Talent™ assists in pairing transitioning and former military talent to employer’s needs across all sectors. If you think a former or transitioning military person would be a good fit for your company, Coe suggests that the companies having the most success in hiring military talent are those that approach the hiring from a business case attitude as opposed to the moral or ethical case attitude. In other words, you hire the military talent because it’s a good fit for your business — not out of pity or thinking that it would be good for the vet to give them a job.

He suggests looking at what areas of need your company actually has.

Is it a shortage of technical talent, leadership talent or a combination of those two things? Then look into the local military talent community and identify the folks that have that type of background.

Coe offered some insight into the pool of talent found within the former and transitioning military community. “The war for talent (no pun intended) within the military community is at an all time high. You’ll find [that] a lot of great skill sets, attitudes and perspective on going to work in your industry thrive in the military, whether someone is coming from a construction related job on active duty or not. Most veterans, especially those that are transitioning directly from active duty want to get back close to home — a point that was touched on earlier — they want to find an organization that will invest in them and give them an opportunity to grow and thrive within it and have an opportunity to be trained and really to just be given a chance to succeed.” More organizations are recognizing military talent and are aggressively going out to find it and hire it. Coe stated that during the calendar year 2017, 200-225,000 active military personnel will be leaving active duty and be transitioning into the private sector. That is a huge pool of talent ready to be trained and/or immediately employed.

Coe gave a list of best practices for successful military talent programs:

  • Create a military talent program plan — you should be aligning key personnel (decision makers, talent acquisition, human resources and operations managers) to develop your hiring plan.
  • Set measurable goals and objectives — it is critical to be able to track and measure results including metrics on hiring, performance data and retention rates.
  • Understand military talent — focus on gaining a clear understanding of the backgrounds and skill sets that are a match for your targeted positions.
  • Develop a focused brand marketing and veteran outreach campaign — Traditional civilian recruiting methods have proven ineffective in reaching military talent. It is important to reach veterans where they are, keeping in mind the uniqueness of their job search situation.
  • Make on-boarding a priority — Create networking opportunities, mentorship programs and pay special attention to benefits that will appeal to veterans in order to assist them in continuing their transition in the civilian world.

As owner of a recruiting firm, Jerry Randecker focused on the hiring process. After he reviewed the general cost of hiring and training a new employee — anywhere from $5,000-$15,000 depending on the position — he wondered at the cost of a bad hire. It could be double or triple that in dollars and the effects of attitude and morale among your other employees could be incalculable.

Randecker offered a few tips when you are ready to pursue active recruiting. Number one on the list is a well-defined job description. This is for your benefit as the employer, so you know what you’re looking for in a candidate. He suggests coming up with a list of desired qualifications or must haves and use it as a checklist during interviews explaining, “the thing that you can do that is most productive toward hiring the right people is to know what you’re looking for before you go into the process.”

Depending on the size of your company, posting the job opening internally is a great way to find candidates. It not only gives your current employees a chance to bid on the position, it lets your employees know there is an opening and usually “your good employees will recommend good employees.”

Other resources include external relationships (your own friends or social network); temp agencies (give you a chance to “test drive” an employee) and specialized recruiting firms will do a lot of the preliminary background checks for you, and don’t eliminate social media but use caution.

For the interview, Randecker encouraged everyone to develop a list of consistent questions (after you have your job description) to enable you to compare interviewees against each other. Dovetailing on what was mentioned earlier about work ethic and other soft skills, “You’ve got to spend some time with people to know who they are.”

Have some entry-level requirement for each position in your company and don’t ignore standard assessments ie: references, drug tests, driving and criminal record checks, etc. and be consistent and objective in obtaining them — no matter who recommends the candidate. Put the job offer in writing for both parties protection, listing any timeline for probationary periods/raise expectations and the like. Lastly, he suggested following up with your new hire. Some companies have formal reviews periodically, others just check in on regular intervals to see how an employee is doing.



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