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Opinion: Retaining quality employees requires an intentional effort

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Workforce development initiatives focused on building the talent pipeline are necessary to ensure the construction industry has a workforce tomorrow. While we focus on recruiting to the industry, businesses must remember the importance of retaining workers as well. It does not matter how much water you put in a bucket if there is a hole leaking water out of the bottom.

Multiple factors impact the average tenure of employees, including age, educational attainment, industry and occupation. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the median number of years wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was slightly over four years for the past two years. As of January 2020, median employee tenure was generally higher among older workers than younger: workers ages 55-64 had 9.9 years’ tenure and those 25-34 had only 2.8 years. A larger portion of older workers than younger workers also had 10 years or more of tenure. Among workers ages 60-64, 54% had been employed for at least 10 years with their current employer in January 2020 compared with 10% of those ages 30-34.

According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. When considering young professionals and younger trades workers, pay is not the end all be all. A competitive wage is expected, but there are other important factors. Younger workers want opportunities for advancement, flexibility, stability and work-life balance. During peak construction, tradesmen are willing to put in the hours needed as long as expectations are set.

Watch for workers who emerge as natural leaders and ask what their goals are. Never assume all workers who are good at their job or have natural leadership talent are interested in leadership roles at work. Career advancement looks different depending on the career track of the individual. Some workers will progress quickly to crew leader positions, superintendent and project managers. Others prefer working with their hands in the trades instead. Understanding employee motivations and helping them set their own goals will ensure you are on the same page, which will also help with employee retention.

For those interested in the professional side or leadership positions, offer opportunities for personal development, professional training and community involvement. Employees who are engaged in the company and community feel appreciated and can picture themselves growing are more likely to stay with the company.

Younger workers in the trades also want to feel appreciated and are more likely to stay with a company if they have pride in their work. Teamwork and comradery help skilled workers and those in the field feel more connected and have ownership in their company. Employee referrals can be some of the best hires a company can make for this reason. Focus on hiring employees who will fit into the current team and culture of a company.

A benefits package is another incentive for retaining quality employees. Employees may not understand the benefits packages for their first job, but some type of benefits package becomes more important as they progress in their careers or begin starting families. Not all companies can offer large benefits packages, so focus on what is the most important to your specific employees.

In construction, safety should be the No. 1 focus of every company. A safe work environment also will go a long way with increasing employee retention. Employees are more likely to be injured the first 30 days on the job, so a high turnover rate can have safety risks on the new employees and those around them.

The study by Gallup also said 52% of voluntarily exiting employees said their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job. The study is not industry specific, but the same is true in construction. Employees who are engaged in their work, feel pride in what they do, fit with the culture and have employee satisfaction post higher productivity and retention rates, meaning employee satisfaction impacts the bottom dollar for businesses.

Megan Short is executive director of the Springfield Contractors Association. She can be reached at megan@springfieldcontractors.org.

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