Critical Strategies for Retaining Workers

By Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group

Over the past year of working with contractors across the United States, I continue to see the biggest challenge being the retention of workers. Yes, just finding better workers is problematic, but I have witnessed yet another stumbling block that contractors are placing in their way.

Over the past several years, even going on before the COVID pandemic, most contractors were developing some new standards to recruit needed workers. The biggest investment of time, and budget, came in the way of social media expansion. Rather than put up a “We’re Hiring” sign in the front yard, more contractors were signing up to place their job needs online.

This article’s focus is not to discuss the pros and cons of such recruiting, but the post recruiting efforts, which moved recruits to applicants, to eventually new hires, still ran into a process that few contractors are even today, only beginning to assess.

In my book, The Seven Steps of Employee Retention, I lay out a strategy that you can follow, tailoring to your company’s culture and needs. I present a snap shot of the first three steps below for our discussion.

Step #1 – “On-Boarding”   

  • Orientation
  • Exposure to “Players”

Step #2 – The 90-Day Plan

  • Lines out weekly highlights to learn
  • Provides “well-rounded” company picture

Step #3 – Skill Training

  • Basics 1st that everyone is held accountable
  • Tied specifically to their job function

Steps #1 & #2 are preparation for the new worker. Look to see that both steps are moving the new worker toward a “season of training.” Depending on the skill and knowledge level of a new hire, the training needed will be tailored to the level of competence of the new worker and experience.

The challenge for many contractors is that they have not ramped up their company to really provide training and education for new hires. Sadly, it’s basically the way we’ve always sort of done things in construction, “Just watch old Bob do that …and then you do what you see him do.” It’s a poor attempt at “show and tell” and there is more showing than telling in a way that the new worker can truly learn.

When new people are hired, most employees ask three simple questions:

  1. No one is talking to me.
  2. No one is training me.
  3. No one is following up with me (e.g., coaching)

When new people are hired, most employees ask three simple questions:
-What’s my job?
-How am I doing?
-Who cares?

When you locate that new employee, no matter how you discovered them, how are you getting them involved in the education process? Again, some national trends range but can show some construction workers not remaining with a new contractor for more than 30-45 days … if they don’t get some training.

Say what you want about the different generations and the “cold war” that can exist between them at times, the younger generation has a loyalty of about three to six months. No longer will new workers hang around for two to three years before determining if your company is the right career path for them.

If I were going to give any contractor any advice for how to recruit and retain workers moving forward it would be to develop a schedule and methodical training program for all new workers. Move them ahead or keep them behind the pace, depending on their skills and competency level, but get the training started on day one!

There’s a car bumper sticker I saw a few years ago that I like to share. It read:

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!

Finally, let me leave you with a few intentional steps when looking at training and education.

  1. Identify what the job will require from the new worker.
  2. Develop a “paper process” of what you will need to educate the new worker about the job.
  3. Gather the tools needed to train the new worker.
  4. Consider the best individual to educate the new worker and try not to select yourself or the new worker’s boss.
  5. Spread the training over the worker’s first 6, 8, even 12 weeks of work.
  6. If the worker completes the training process, give them a gift card to a store or to the local hamburger restaurant.
  7. Follow-up, often, with the new worker to see how they are adjusting.

The new workers entering our industry are often very bright, however, many have not had a great chance to screen our industry. In other words, they’ve not often had a parent, or another relative who was in the industry.

Start today toward building a training process for your new workers. It will be the best money spent and will provide more return-on-investment than you might think.

Happy training!

Brad Humphrey has been in the construction industry for more than 35 years. Starting as an apprentice plumber through his early years of college to being a partner in several construction companies, Brad has served at the front line through the senior leader levels, including ownership. Brad’s Pinnacle Development Group team of professional consultants and coaches continue to provide growth and operational strategies to contractors of all size and specialty.  From strategic planning to team-building; from field leadership to business development; and, from human resources to client retention, PDG brings a freshness of ideas, techniques, and solutions to construction companies around the globe.

Brad Humphrey
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