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An actor that came to fame by way of his long-term supporting role on “The Cosby Show” recently made headlines for bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s. The conversation around the pictures as they surfaced on social media indicated that he must be humiliated for working as a clerk or that somehow bagging groceries was beneath him and other people like him. Then something wonderful happened: Instead of crawling under a rock in embarrassment, the actor responded to the job shaming saying that every job has worth and value and there was nothing wrong with the work he was doing to support his family. A job is a job, and no one should be made to feel bad for taking home an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

The message resonated with people around the world and made for a nice feel-good story for a few days. Thousands of commentaries popped up on social media and blogs showing broad support for someone working at a less-than-glamorous job to pay the bills and take care of their family. Yet, back here on earth, millions of blue collar and skilled trade workers are looked down on for their work every single day.

Ending Negative Stereotypes

Dirty, low paying, no benefits, unsafe, unstable and lack of opportunity. These are just a few of the words and phrases used to describe the construction industry—and for good reason. For far too many years, those entering the profession were treated as permanent entry-level workers with no ability to make a decent living or move up the ladder.

Who is to blame for the construction industry’s negative perception? It is unfortunate that many companies have to suffer the consequences of a few bad apples that have taken advantage of the workforce by underpaying, not offering benefits or promoting unsafe work environments. However, to drive change, it is up to the industry collectively to be a positive force in addressing negative stereotypes and push for solutions to increase employee recruitment and retention.

Be a Part of the Solution

An industry that is facing a shortage of 1.5 million workers by the year 2021, according to NCCER, does not have the luxury of taking a wait-and-see stance. This is especially true when it takes eight to 12 years for a worker to acquire the skills and knowledge of a trade professional.

So, what can be done? Construction companies are often known for their rigid hierarchies and may not be attractive workplaces for today’s dynamic workforce. In addition to traditional benefits such as retirement, 401k and time off, workers are more likely to seek out companies that provide a commitment to safety, well-being, responsible leadership and continuing education. These types of offerings show a long-term commitment to workers.

It is also essential to connect with the community and share what is great about working in the construction industry. People don’t understand what they don’t know. While bringing about better offerings and incentives is crucial, if politicians, schools and parents don’t know about careers available in the construction trades they will continue to have negative perceptions. A few ways to get the word out include the following.

  1. Create an open environment. Meet with area schools, open up the workplace to work-based training such as internships, mentoring or skilled trade days at local schools.
  2. Connect with the local chamber, regional planning commissions and economic development organizations. Often, they do not know what challenges employers face, but can be an excellent resource for collaboration due to the demographic and business information they can provide.
  3. School systems may be woefully unaware of the opportunities that exist in the industry. Sometimes this can be addressed by simply picking up the phone and scheduling a chat with the school administrator. This provides a valuable communication channel to show the administrator what jobs are going unfilled and why. If they cannot change the offerings at the school, at least it provides the opportunity to open communication between the workforce, area vocational schools and secondary education.

Because construction is an industry that relies heavily on skilled workers (i.e., people more than technology), it is essential that companies recognize and use a breadth of tools in the recruitment effort. The reality is that company values are the company culture. Companies that believe people are their greatest assets are the ones poised for long-term success.

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