Marketing Strategies to Improve Recruitment Efforts

Work in construction offers the classic American story: someone can start on the ground floor and work their way into a highly technical profession. The challenge is connecting job seekers to those opportunities. How can companies go about building a talent pipeline?
April 15, 2020

America is a land of opportunity, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the construction industry, which offers countless ways for someone to find career fulfillment, not only in terms of the variety of trades involved but in project type and location. Work in construction offers the classic American story: someone can start on the ground floor (literally) and work their way into a highly technical profession—or management or entrepreneurship or all the above. The challenge is connecting job seekers to those opportunities. How can companies go about building a talent pipeline?

Overcoming the Image Problem

It is no secret that the construction industry has an image problem. Right now, many people have the misconception that jobs in the trades or in construction offer poor and unsafe working conditions, low pay and long hours. But today, men and women in skilled trades earn very competitive wages and benefits, use the latest technology and have access to various training and development programs to support their career objectives. Educating the public regarding these advantages is crucial; the current stigma needs to be replaced with the understanding that there are lucrative, rewarding careers in the construction industry.

Every company should have an integrated approach to filling their talent pipeline. This includes:

  • building the employment brand;
  • engaging educational institutions;
  • participating in veterans’ programs;
  • organizing outreach to women, minorities and retirees; and
  • working with recruiters.

A strategy that deserves special attention is outreach to Millennials and the generations that follow them. These groups are less likely than their predecessors to consider work in the construction industry. They tend to pursue four-year college degrees with the intent of working in other fields. Yet getting a four-year degree isn’t for everyone and, moreover, the majority of tomorrow’s jobs will not require a bachelor’s degree, making the debt one incurs to achieve it a questionable investment. For many young people, learning a valuable and marketable trade skill can offer them a lifetime of income, stability and professional fulfillment.

One reason for the high number of students entering four-year programs is that too few of them are exposed to construction careers in middle and high school. Most high schools are increasingly focused on preparing students for success at four-year colleges rather than introducing them to the skilled trades. Many parents, school administrators, counselors and teachers emphasize the need for students to go to college.

It’s important that young people—even children—begin building career awareness. Having career awareness means, in part, understanding what jobs are available that offer stable, long-term employment. Most young children can only name a handful of available jobs, but there are thousands of career options awaiting them in the adult world. Having career awareness also means gradually but actively building the knowledge that will allow a student to enter a field and progress through it.

Pathways to Reaching Students

Companies can begin by identifying schools with programs that fit with the company’s particular needs. Often these are high schools and colleges—but don’t overlook opportunities to interact with middle schoolers or younger children. Develop specific profiles and potential career paths, including the establishment of goals, expectations and desired results. This clarity will help find a good match and create success for both the company and the student.

Build a proactive, detailed marketing program for recruitment efforts. Innovative marketing techniques are needed to reach today’s students, who are tech savvy and conduct research very differently than previous generations. A company’s outreach should use a variety of media outlets and technologies to promote their brand; individual tactics should be part of an integrated communication effort. For example, begin by evaluating the company website. Is there a content-rich section geared toward students? Use videos, podcasts and other multi-media tools to reach this audience—and script the messages in a language that speaks to the students. Digital tools such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, as well as text messaging, should be part of the marketing campaign. Don’t forget to produce communication pieces that target parents, who have become increasingly more involved in their children’s decision and career choices.

On the college level, career fairs are a great way to reach a broad cross-section of students. Many colleges and universities have general career fairs as well as specific engineering, construction and trade fairs. Since attendees at career fairs are typically juniors and sophomores, there is a great opportunity to establish a relationship and explore internship and co-op possibilities. Internships provide professional experience for students as well as an opportunity for companies to evaluate them as potential employees. Most important, internships provide a basis for a relationship.

Ideally, an internship in a student’s sophomore year can be followed by a second internship the next year. Students who have a good internship experience are likely to look heavily at the firm upon graduation. In addition, they become ambassadors for the company as they share their experience with students and professors.

An important caveat when it comes to career fairs is that success can’t be achieved by simply showing up with the same booth that is used at industry trade shows. Companies need to invest in videos, quality graphics and multi-media tools that not only speak the language of the target age group but showcase the company’s career advancement opportunities and other employment advantages. Assets that have been developed as part of the overall recruitment campaign, such as landing pages on the company website, can be deployed at career fairs. Also consider taking advantage of on-campus interviews, which are usually offered in conjunction with career fairs.

Student chapters of industry groups, such as Chi Epsilon, ASCE, ACI, ABC and others are an excellent way to reach and build relationships with students. Companies can participate by offering guest speakers, hosting a social event, funding an on-campus project or sponsoring a competition. An added bonus is that the student group leaders and officers are typically high-potential candidates.

It is also prudent to build relationships with the academic community. Professors, career placement offices and other faculty members can help identify high-potential students for internships or employment. Further, they typically have great insight into a student’s work ethic, intelligence and interaction skills. Start by researching faculty members, their background and classes they teach. Offer to be a guest speaker or host a class trip to a jobsite or engineering office. Professors are often looking for “real” projects that can give their students practical exposure. Consider teaching as an adjunct professor. Be sure to also reach out to professors that serve as faculty advisors to the aforementioned students’ groups.

Building a Brand on Campus

Ultimately, the goal is to present the firm as an employer of choice for students. Like all consumers, students tend to gravitate to brands they know. As such, it is important to develop a strategy for developing a brand on campus that goes beyond career fairs. Ideas include sponsorships of student competitions, such as the steel bridge or concrete canoe contests. Also be sure to take advantage of advertising opportunities in student newspapers, websites, directories and other publications. Further, consider offering named scholarships, making donations to capital campaigns, sponsoring events, or distributing shirts, hats and other premium items as means to gain exposure on campus.

Strong relationships with career services offices also can have many benefits. Counselors can identify candidates for companies as well as recommend those companies to students. Be sure to take advantage of job boards, web postings and other ways of promoting the firm. For example, offer to host a seminar about the business or a generic topic, such as “What General Contractors Look for in New Hire.” Consider having a company employee who is a recent grad be part of the presentation. Students are more likely to relate to someone closer to their age, ideally a graduate of that school. Send new brochures, press clippings and articles to the career services staff, faculty and professors.

Like any other marketing or sales effort, it is important to identify a champion in the firm to be accountable for implementing and managing the recruiting program for each campus. Students have a number of choices when starting their career. By developing a proactive, coordinated approach to recruiting, the firm can ensure a strong brand and a steady flow of talent to grow the business. The result will be the establishment of a solid pipeline of talent coming into the organization.

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