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Opinion: How to build a construction culture that stands its ground

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The construction industry continues to experience growth across multiple sectors, and that increase in building projects is expected for the coming years. The inherent challenge, however, is the ability to hire and retain a skilled workforce during a time when manpower, especially skilled construction laborers, is hard to find.

A lean talent pool should prompt construction companies to re-examine the benefits and company culture offered in order to recruit and retain the best workers.

Today’s workforce, especially those among the millennial generation, rates companies they want to work for, and do business with, based on their culture. As other industries compete for the same limited pool of craft professionals, the value of a positive culture can give your company an advantage over the competition.

The bigger question is: How do the characteristics of a great working environment translate to a company’s overall profitability?

Culture comprises the shared attitudes, energy, passion and trust among leadership and all employees. It provides the framework for how a company functions. Some business owners mistakenly think culture is an abstract piece of business or an unnecessary venture to make employees more productive.

Your company’s culture is the driver of productivity, and profitability reflects that productivity. More than instruction, employee engagement happens when leadership on down understands and buys in to the “why” behind the “what.”

So how does this translate to the construction industry? Here are three ways:

1. Invest in employees. There was a time when employees stayed with one employer throughout their entire career. Very rarely is this true today, especially for those in the construction industry. But construction employment is approaching a steep growth curve. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sector is projected to increase by more than 1.6 million jobs, the largest increase in any industry, to reach a level of nearly 7.3 million employees in 2022. A 2.6 percent annual employment growth rate also projects construction among the fastest growing industries.

Maintaining a good training program is a good company strategy to recruit, develop and retain the best people. Today’s employees are more likely to stay with companies that offer training programs and defined career paths resulting in upward mobility. Oftentimes the critical component missing is commitment from owners and contractors to utilize these resources. Laborers need context and information about why they are doing their job to gain perspective and provide better work.

2. Become the employer of choice. Becoming an employer of choice means creating a culture driven by more than just earning a paycheck. People want to come to work every day and know they are part of something bigger than building houses, installing materials or supplying or fabricating products. That’s the cornerstone of keeping quality employees. People want to work for employers that have core values similar to theirs.

3. Retain quality people. Turnover is expensive and time-consuming. It also disrupts production schedules and jeopardizes quality and safety, in turn affecting profitability. Once you find quality workers, make sure you do everything you can to get your employees excited about working for your company.

Providing perks that traditionally are not available in the construction industry – such as mentoring and leadership training – can make a big impact. This demonstrates the company cares about them, and it could cause them to want to reach their full potential and excel at their job.

It’s important to understand that creating a winning culture only happens when it is done thoughtfully and intentionally. So spend the time needed to determine what your current culture is, what you want it to be and develop a plan to get from here to there. The return on your investment will pay many types of dividends.

Karen Armstrong is the director of talent management for Arvest Bank at its corporate office. She can be reached at karmstrong@arvest.com.

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