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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts demand for skilled labor in construction will increase 25 percent by the year 2022. Failure to create plans and programs to identify, groom and retain talent will exacerbate a problem caused by the retirement of the baby boomer generation, economic recession and millenials’ propensity for choosing college over trade school.

The construction industry’s inability to evolve quickly enough to meet this 21st century challenge must be resolved. Stimulating training opportunities, advancement accelerated to match the abilities of the worker and a “voice” in important decisions seem to be the most important expectations of the modern talent pool. It’s essential for the construction sector to focus on creating an exciting, modern image of itself as a profession of “building important things,” and more specifically one that piques the interest of tech-oriented candidates. Finding effective ways to impart an understanding of how vitally important the construction trades are to the U.S. economy and infrastructure, and how the candidate can be a key player in the sector, should be a fundamental focus of industry participants and professional associations.

Giving talented workers a reason to stay will be an ongoing challenge. While being paid for the value that they bring to the organization is important, simply increasing compensation and benefits packages is not a complete solution. In addition to flexibility and good pay, workers need to feel engaged in meaningful, interesting work. Most employees want to perceive that their contribution makes a difference. They want to feel valued and generally want to be recognized for doing well.

Regular feedback in the form of “constructive” performance reviews is essential. Studies show organizations that establish appropriate feedback programs experience a 15 percent reduction in turnover. A firm also will find that sincere compliments in the presence of peers, and emotional support within appropriate limits, go a long way to creating feelings of loyalty and solidarity with the organization’s team members.

Studies have shown other important causes of resignations. The fear of stagnation—that one will spend 30 years or more of his or her life doing something that at the end of a career is meaningless—can be a compelling reason to emigrate. An employee’s perception that his or her employer is more concerned with profits than with helping fellow human beings, or that the organization has no meaningful social purpose, is another. Vague, unachievable goals or a complete lack of a mission and vision can be demoralizing to a worker who values having a clear reason for his or her investment of time and effort in the company. Lack of true, skilled leadership from an organization’s directors is generally the origin of low morale.

In addition to being frustrating, turnover in any industry imposes a serious burden on businesses—costing time, money and other resources. The theory of “organizational equilibrium” proposes that a worker will stay with an organization so long as the compensation is equal to or greater than the contributions expected from the worker. This is a balance that the construction industry must get right: creating more reasons for workers to stay than go, eliminating as many causes of dissatisfaction as possible and creating a bright path of individual advancement. Without serious effort within the industry to institute the internal practices that encourage workers to stay, the talent shortage will continue. 

Constantin Poindexter is chief underwriter at Surety One, Inc., Raleigh, N.C. For more information, email cpoindexter@suretyone.org.

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