Attracting and Nurturing the Next Wave of Construction Professionals

What do millennials and generation Z want from their professional careers and how can contractors effectively gain their attention? The answers may lie with technology.
By Matt Harris
March 21, 2019

Nearly a decade removed from the last major recession, construction has been booming, with unparalleled growth opportunities and innovations being realized. Yet, the construction industry is still facing a significant challenge in terms of building out skilled workforces. There are simply too many projects and not enough workers, sometimes leading contractors to miss out on prime opportunities.

The industry as whole has done a remarkable job of addressing the situation with new ideas and dedicated resources. From new programs at the construction association level to spur new construction training and education; to industry-wide efforts to diversify workforces and appeal to younger professionals; to concentrated construction recruitment, hiring and retention programs, it’s clear this is an issue that is critical for contractors.

But it’s also clear there is more work that needs to be done, as millennials in particular have passed up potentially lucrative construction careers for other industries. Now, many contractors are focusing efforts on generation Z, sometimes called iGen (ages 7-24), as they have started entering the workforces.

What do younger generations like millennials and generation Z want from their professional careers and how can contractors effectively gain their attention? The answers may lie with technology. There are three keys to understanding, relating to and ultimately appealing to the next potential waves of tech-savvy construction professionals.

Understanding Younger Professionals’ Needs and Desires

Today’s younger professionals are tech driven. For the most part, these professionals grew up with technologies like the internet and mobile devices that allowed them to work and play with data while on the go. Whether it was laptops and cell phones to smartphones and tablet devices to portable gaming devices and social media, most of those under 30 years old are simply wired to work wirelessly.

To them, working and communicating in the cloud is natural. The idea of being tethered to a static workstation, or worse, working with manual processes like paper or single-function software seems downright archaic to most. Unlike most professionals over 30, millennials and generation Zers aren’t as interested in drawn out, step-by-step processes—they’re more inclined to seek the simplest, most efficient paths to end goals. If the tools or technology they have to work with are not easy to use or take to long or too many steps to function, they will lose interest quickly.

Yet, younger professionals also crave direction, support and a deep level of understanding of how their work impacts end goals. They want to see value in what they’re doing and want that to reflect in their career paths. If it’s just setting a foundation or wiring a building, they may not see intrinsic value, but if they’re part of designing and building a new medical center that will feature new innovations to help people, or if it’s a new bridge that will connect and revitalize two underserved communities, they’ll see value. So, show and sell the end game rather than process.

Younger professionals are even more open to mentors and inspirational leaders than previous generations. That’s why many contractors are building out career-building strategies, collaborative workflows and employing better communicators who can effectively share company missions and visions.

Building a Case for Career Growth with Technology

Younger, tech-savvy professionals want assurances that they’ll be able to use the latest solutions in their jobs. Whereas construction was seen as an honorable, decent paying and often exciting trade to build a career in among earlier generations, these days the industry is competing with internet and social media companies, technology providers, arts and entertainment outlets, online retail and many more industries driven primarily by technology.

That’s why construction—along with industries like manufacturing and agriculture that were slow adopters of modern technologies—was not accepted with the same level of excitement as others. As contractors have started to dramatically modernize their operations, some younger workers are trickling back, but there’s still a perception that contractor jobs mostly involve machines, long hours and hard work.

Those contractors that have fared well in attracting skilled workers are the same companies that are investing in technologies like drones, wearable devices, artificial intelligence, BIM and connected, collaborative jobsites. Younger professionals don’t want to deal with paper, manual processes, outdated software or spreadsheets. They want to work quickly and efficiently. They want to create, innovate and lead. They want to build careers and grow their skills instead of spending the bulk of their time doing routine tasks that could be addressed with automation.

That’s why selling the construction technology story to younger professionals begins with the software that runs contractors’ businesses. From automated workflows to real-time collaboration to working with the latest cloud solutions to share data, dashboards and more—if contractors aren’t running a streamlined ship, younger workers will jump ship. Integration is key. One construction management platform that operates in the cloud, sharing a uniform set of data across the entire organization—providing experiences much like today’s social media or smart devices—will appeal to younger professionals much more than working with multiple systems and processes that require extra attention to manage.

Streamlining Construction Careers

One way to attract and retain top talent is to make it simple to transition to a construction career. By utilizing modern recruitment and hiring technologies, contractors can expand the breadth of their searches for quality construction professionals or candidates that would make good construction leaders. These solutions—integrated into leading construction ERP platforms—connect with younger professionals on their terms. Job openings and recommendations can be sent directly to their mobile devices, application processes are simplified and optimized for professionals on the go.

Online portals allow candidates to easily upload documents, submit resumes and self-manage their candidate status, creating a collaborative environment that fosters better communication and understanding between parties. Once candidates are selected, these powerful portals allow contractors to deliver new hire documentation, create simple processing workflows, provide training and much more, streamlining processes that can often frustrate new hires and bury HR teams in unnecessary paperwork.

These portals, automated workflows and other streamlined solutions continue to bring value throughout construction professionals’ full careers, allowing both workers and their employers to work together to manage their career growth and expectations. Among the benefits:

  • providing an easy-to-use system to manage labor hours, request time off, view items like pay rates and pay stubs and more;
  • serving as a single point of reference for important company and employee documentation rather than relying on messy email chains;
  • delivering a platform for professionals to stay up to date with training and certifications; and
  • managing career growth by facilitating performance metrics and reviews, alerting people to new career opportunities and much more.

Having the right technology strategy in place and showing a roadmap for continued innovation and growth is one of the biggest ways contractors can win over the next generations of workers. Companies that commit to technology and are willing to break from processes that are no longer efficient will not only attract the next wave of top talent, they’ll better position themselves for success. Modern construction software and solutions are providing value far beyond contractors’ technology investments. They’re drastically mitigating traditional construction risks, boosting productivity and profitability, and opening the doors of possibility in terms of the types of projects contractors can deliver for their clients.

by Matt Harris
Matt Harris is Vice President and General Manager at Portland-Ore.-based Trimble Viewpoint, a construction management division of industrial technology company Trimble. He is responsible for Trimble Viewpoint’s overall business, including its long-range strategy and execution while leading a global team who is passionate about making a difference with construction technology.

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