“Over-deliver but don’t overpromise,” Binke says. “Everybody
should know the company’s goals,
mission and values. Make it a top
priority, communicate and make sure
everyone is on the same page. There
are [many] unskilled trades [in which]
companies are dying to pay $20 an
hour just to start people.”
Focus on Career, Not Pay
professionals are more concerned
about upward mobility than salary.
Between 2012 and 2013, Mercer, a
global consulting firm in New York,
conducted an internal labor-market
analysis that also involved predictive
modeling of the drivers of turnover
with a construction client that
employed 5,000 people, says Haig
Nalbantian, senior partner at Mercer.
“When you think about construction
[workers], you think short term—
here and now—[such as] money
and opportunities for them to take
advantage of the boom times and
protect themselves against the lean
times,” he says. “That proved not to
be true. We found that everything was
about the career … upward mobility,
growing with the organization and
moving up the hierarchal ranks.
Anything related to career and career
Nalbantian says HR professionals
need to identify core employees
who contribute to the company’s
success and then focus on their career
trajectory. Oftentimes, he says, HR
fails to address career paths and
qualifications with job candidates or
employees, so some feel they’re on
thin ice regarding employment or job
security, especially as they grow older
and experience difficulty performing
jobs that require physical labor.
Workers need a sense of how their
skills may translate into alternative
careers, such as in supervision, safety,
training or customer service.
“Organizations tend to be very
secretive when it comes to saying
what [workers’] prospects are, what
a successful career looks like in their
company,” Nalbantian says. “Are there
clear-cut levels and titles, or how long
does it take [to achieve those skills]?”
In this gig economy, more people
are working across markets as
contractors versus employees. Given
the shifting environment, Nalbantian
says, construction employers should
take advantage of centralized or cloud-
technology platforms such as Qmerit,
which inventories worker skills and
enables them to bid on upcoming jobs
throughout the company.
Some of Nalbantian’s clients are
starting to use these technologies,
referred to as smart market or
matching-market systems, which
put employees in the driver seat
regarding their career and enable HR
to spend less time on recruitment with
greater retention results. The systems
automatically match employees with
jobs they’re qualified for and at similar
pay. Consider employees who prefer
working 30 hours a week instead of
40 or who want to try something new.
Now they have the flexibility to explore
different jobs or select ones that enable
them to work with specific colleagues or
others who can teach or inspire them.
“Give some sense to incoming
employees that there is a trajectory,
opportunities for them to learn and
grow and exploit their talents and
experiences in far more diverse ways
than they might have thought,” says
Nalbantian. “You may get a leg up on
What worries Shannon Latham,
day or night, is building a diverse and
The national director of HR and
professional development for U.S.
operations at PCL Construction in
“Being an employee-owned
company, we rely heavily on our equity
program to attract and retain talent,”
she says, adding that every year, the
company hires roughly 170 workers
in the U.S. and another 165 in Canada.
“We have a workforce that demands
employers make investments in
developing their people.”
Since construction is a fast-
paced industry and doesn’t offer the
traditional 30- to 90-day hiring lens, she
says, recruiting becomes a challenge.
“In construction, [recruitment] is
immediate; it’s now,” says Latham.
“You don’t have the luxury of time to
be able to carry out and execute HR
initiatives. A lot of things require this
sense of urgency, unlike in any other
industry I’ve worked in.”
To speed up its hiring process,
Caddell Construction created a detailed
recruiting plan this year. Sometimes,
positions such as scheduling engineers
can take several months to fill.
“We felt like we needed to have a
well-thought-out plan and standard to
guide our decisions or actions,” says
The industry is “definitely not
boring and will keep you sharp,” Abele
says. “I love the challenge.”
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Denver says the company hired
a diversity director to help its
estimated 4,300 salaried employees—
predominantly in the U.S. and
Canada—gain better awareness and
appreciation for people with different
backgrounds. Among the company’s
initiatives are networks or affinity
groups that may draw and retain
Latham says the company’s turnover
rate is about 10 percent among its
professional workers, adding that it
doesn’t track turnover for tradespeople.
She believes the company’s selling
points are its robust training programs,
especially in leadership development.
Roughly 25 percent of eligible
employees take advantage of the free
Other advantages are that PCL
is employee-owned, supports an
extensive succession-planning program
and fills an estimated 80 percent of job
vacancies from within the organization.
Getting the Skilled Trades on Track
Two years ago, Lowe’s went on a “journey” to make itself a more purpose-driven organization, says Mike Mitchell, director of trade skills at the home-improvement company. That organizational self-reflection included considerations of how the worker shortage in the skilled-trades industry would impact its future—and that of its workforce.
“We talked to our associates and a lot said they were aware they could make
a pretty lucrative, meaningful living in the skilled trades, but they just had never
gotten started. So that set off a lightbulb,” Mitchell says.
Lowe’s partnered with adult-education company Guild Education to create
Track to the Trades. The program connects employees with up to $2,500 in tuition
assistance for online pre-apprenticeship training in carpentry, HVAC, electrical,
plumbing or appliance repair. Guild Education will provide academic coaching
and support, and the coursework is self-paced, typically taking six to 10 months
to complete, Mitchell says. Lowe’s will then place participants in apprenticeships
at local companies that participate in its national contractor network to complete
their certification and kickstart their career in the trades.
“We have a full-service contractor network in every market in the country,
from flooring to countertops to HVAC. These local contractors are really feeling
the labor shortage,” Mitchell says. He notes that the company is doing back-end succession-planning for employees who want to stay on with the company
instead of going right into a full-time apprenticeship.
Guild Education has previously worked with partners on apprenticeship
programs—such as one that enabled school-district paraprofessionals to earn a
teaching degree and then move into student-teaching positions—but this is its first
foray into trade apprenticeships, says Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild Education.
“It’s a really beautiful public-private partnership that few companies could do
to the scale needed, but Lowe’s can with its 260,000-employee footprint around
the U.S.,” Carlson says. Since the program was announced earlier this year,
she says, Guild Education has been contacted by 30 skilled-trade companies
interested in using Track to the Trades as a model for their own upskilling projects.
While upskilling is a major component, recruitment and retention are also in
Lowe’s sights, Mitchell says. Already, recent new hires have reported applying to
the company because of the program, for which part- and full-time employees are
eligible after six months on the job.
“We really see this as a true employee-value proposition: We want to train you
and we want to show you how much our business leaders are willing to support
you,” Mitchell says.
The program rolled out with 140 inaugural students in four pilot cities in March
and is expected to launch nationwide later this year.
As the company has introduced Track to the Trades to its employees and to
prospective candidates at job fairs, Mitchell says, the most common refrain heard
has been, “Is this real?”
“A lot of people think it’s too good to be true,” he says. “Once we started
explaining how Lowe’s benefits from an employee-value proposition standpoint,
from a recruitment piece and just how much we want to support our own
employees, there’s more understanding and excitement—and we’re going to
continue to build on that momentum.”