According to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the biggest employment shortages right now are in skilled labor industries: construction, mining, logging, warehousing, etc. As a result, it grows increasingly difficult for companies to find, recruit, and retain skilled workers.
Understanding the causes behind the shortage in skilled labor can help hiring managers better address and overcome the challenges of finding qualified candidates. For example, research shows that young people commonly hold misconceptions that discourage them from pursuing a blue-collar career. A recent BigRentz survey found over half of young Americans believe the trade school pay gap is higher than it really is, while only 11% said they believed they could get a high-paying job out of trade school.
Similarly, fears about automation and the replacement of skilled workers by robots have proven largely false, but the prolonged circulation of such myths has driven many to abandon labor careers in favor of industries that may have seemed “safer.”
So how does a savvy HR manager in search of skilled workers find and recruit capable employees in the midst of such a labor shortage? We’ve gathered 13 proven tactics that can help. To see an overview of the tips, jump to our infographic below.
While there are plenty of strategies for attracting top talent that have to do with company culture, sometimes simply tweaking your recruiting strategy can have a big impact on the caliber of job candidate you’re bringing in for an interview. If your main tactic has been to carelessly place your job openings on career sites and move on, you might want to consider taking a more intentional approach. Here are a few research-backed tactics.
False beliefs about labor industry salaries, job security, career advancement, and the threat of automation have had a massively negative impact on the number of new employees entering the labor workforce. According to a BuildZoom analysis of U.S. Census data, the share of workers in construction who are 24 years or younger declined nearly 30% between 2005 and 2016.
You can combat this trend locally by connecting with schools, community leaders, career counselors, and families to address myths and stereotypes about the labor industry. The statistics are on your side: the average salary for skilled trades is over $65,000, and 27% of trade school graduates earn more money than degree-earners.
Aim Low (in Age)
If you see a good amount of interest among local students, consider creating opportunities for them to work for you part-time as an apprentice or intern. The Fair Labor and Standards Act allows workers as young as 14 to perform non-hazardous jobs for a limited number of hours each week. Apprenticeships are attractive to students looking to explore careers and earn a wage while continuing their education, and the return on investment for companies is high — studies cited by the Department of Labor estimate that employers get $1.47 back for every $1 spent on apprenticeship.
Connect to Industrial Networks
The federal government provides approximately $1.1 billion in state grants to fund ten distinct CTSOs, or Career and Technical Student Organizations, which train middle school, high school, college, and post-secondary students in various vocational fields. One CTSO called SkillsUSA holds annual exhibitions where members compete in skills like architectural drafting, carpentry, diesel equipment technology, electrical construction wiring, masonry, occupational health and safety, welding, and more. The organization gives companies the opportunity to meet and speak to these young workers at “Meet the Employer” events locally and nationally throughout the year.
Similarly, local labor unions host hiring halls and training centers in hundreds of cities. The Laborers’ International Union of North America even has a “Find a Local” tool companies can use to source highly-trained trades workers.
Become a Regular Presence at Job Fairs
If you’re not already represented regularly at a handful of job fairs in your community, look through the US Job Fair Directory and register for some. Job fairs can feel overwhelming, and job seekers and hiring managers alike can feel it’s too easy to become lost in the crowd of a well-attended event. But if you can find a way to stand out to potential applicants, the payoff is significant — studies show nearly 70% of junior-level professionals value face-to-face networking over online, and an in-person request is 34 times more effective than an email.
Disregard Gender Stereotypes
If the labor workforce hopes to rebound from its recent shortage, hiring managers will need to be willing to depart from traditional applicant profiles when staffing their projects. Construction is historically (and currently) a male-dominated field — in 2018 only 9.9% of construction employees were female — but women are expected to make up 25 percent of the industry by 2020. In order to attract skilled female candidates, you’ll need to be able to prove you can adapt; safety and health assessments have found women are at higher risk for injury on worksites due to ill-fitting safety equipment, and a majority of female participants in studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported inappropriate touching, comments, and gestures from male coworkers.
If you can prove that women on your worksites are safe from occupational hazards and workplace discrimination, you’ll be a highly attractive career prospect for skilled workers of any gender.
Consider Second-Chance Applicants
One in three working Americans have a criminal record, but many hiring managers refuse to consider people who have been incarcerated. However, research shows that hiring formerly incarcerated people could be a smart business move. A 2017 report by the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality found that, “retention rates are higher, turnover is lower, and employees with criminal records are more loyal.”
For those employers who are concerned about safety, studies on second chance employment also show that formerly incarcerated people who are able to find work are unlikely to become repeat offenders. A 2015 report on six prison-to-work programs showed statewide rates of recidivism ranged from 31 to 70 percent, while rates for those who found work shortly after release ranged from just 3.3 to 8 percent.
Opening your job search to formerly incarcerated candidates will widen your applicant pool and likely bring in more skilled workers. There are even small business tax credits and employer insurance programs available exclusively to companies that hire from certain marginalized groups.
In order to recruit high-quality candidates, you have to be a high-quality employer. That means creating a work environment for your employees that’s safe, healthy, supportive, and prioritizes the well-being of your workers.
Offer Competitive, Location-Specific Salary
Any time there’s low supply and high demand, prices rise — that applies to the price of a skilled worker, too. As the skilled labor shortage has endured, salaries for skilled workers have continued to rise. According to annual reports by the National Center for Construction Education and Research, the average salary across 17 common worksite occupations rose almost 15 percent between 2012 and 2018. What’s more, the average salaries for each individual occupation measured all rose between 3 and 27 percent in that time period as well.
Offering a competitive salary is essential to attract truly skilled labor candidates. And it’s not enough to just meet the national average for a particular role — hiring managers should also do research to determine how cost of living impacts average salaries locally. For instance, U.S. Census data shows the average salary for employees in the construction industry was $51,097. However, the geographic data shows the range of those salaries varies greatly, from just $3,586 in Ann Arbor, Michigan to $201,256 on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Average salaries also vary widely within states — even a small state like Delaware’s average construction salaries vary by city from $26,531 in Newark to $72,004 in Wilmington — so it’s wise to do your own research on what your local competitors and partners pay their employees and doing your best to match or exceed that.
Medical, Dental & Vision Benefits
It can be difficult to offer comprehensive health insurance if you’re a small company, but a competitive benefits package is a huge factor in attracting and retaining skilled talent. In a 2018 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 92% of employees said benefits are important to job satisfaction, while 29% cited insufficient benefits as a top reason to leave their current employer within the next 12 months. With a little research, there are ways to affordably offer healthcare coverage to your employees, and the government even offers a tax credit to small businesses that offer insurance to their workers.
Since labor industries are traditionally male-dominated and paternity leave is comparatively less common than maternity leave, offering paid parental leave can really set your company apart from your competition and draw skilled workers with families to your organization. Though paid leave might sound expensive, replacing a soon-to-be-parent can cost up to 21% of their annual salary. That comes out to about 10 weeks of work, or the length of the average maternity leave taken in the United States.
Mental Health Support
Mental health isn’t one of the first things that springs to mind when considering benefits for skilled laborers, but it should be — according to the CDC, construction is the #1 occupation at risk for suicide in the United States. Small business owners can opt into an Employee Assistance Program, often at low or no cost, which gives employees 24/7 access to mental health support as well as assistance with a variety of personal, family, and work issues.
In addition to benefits, workplace culture plays a large part in incentivizing top employees to stay on at a company. Making sure workers aren’t just healthy, but are also actively happy with their jobs can not only increase retention but also help spread the word about your company to potential job applicants.
Provide Job Training
According to the Center for Work Ethic Development, by 2020 over 40% of new positions will be in “middle skills” jobs, or jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. Offering certification opportunities or subsidizing the costs of relevant courses can be a great way to show employees that you’re invested in them as people and not just workers. For example, companies like Plan Academy offer online courses on planning and schedulings for construction professionals.
According to a 2015 survey by Fails Management Institute, 69% of construction employers do not have a formal process for developing high-potential employees. That same survey found that career advancement opportunities directly impact employee retainment — respondents whose employers did not provide advancement said they planned to change companies within 2 years or less, while those who did receive advancement opportunities reported planning to stay at their companies for 2-5 years or longer.
Coworker mentoring programs, personalized professional development plans, and routine performance evaluations are all great ways to retain skilled workers through employee advancement opportunities. You can also partner with organizations like the Construction Management Association of America to help your employees enroll in formalized training outside your organization.
LinkedIn reports the #1 way people discover a new job is through a referral, and companies that recruit through their employees’ networks reach a talent pool that’s up to 10 times larger than those who don’t. Referred candidates also tend to be higher-quality applicants, as they make up just 6.9 percent of total candidates but account for 40 percent of total hires. Referred candidates are a good investment, too — while 80 percent of employees hired from job boards will change companies within two years, 45 percent of referred candidates choose to stay on. They’re also about 3.5 times less likely to be fired.
If you don’t already have a robust referral culture, consider incentivizing your current employees to mine their personal networks for potential job candidates by offering a referral bonus. These don’t have to be monetary (although that is the most popular choice; 70% of companies offer between $1,000 and $5,000 for a successful employee referral). You can also offer additional vacation days, a donation to the referrer’s charity of choice, the right to choose that week’s happy hour spot — whatever!
Attracting skilled workers is about optimizing your recruitment strategy, offering competitive benefits, and constantly reinvesting in your company culture. By making and strengthening connections in the local community, you’ll provide organic opportunities for potential applicants to interact with current employees and witness firsthand the high-quality work environment your company offers.
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