10 Practical Ideas to Solve the Labor Crisis in Your Remodeling or Home Building Business
I wish I could tell you I have this construction labor problem figured out. I wish I could say I’ve ‘been to the mountaintop’ and can now present to you the ‘quick and easy’ way to solve all your hiring and retention problems.
In plain English I’ll tell you, “I ain’t that smart.”
I can tell you it’s not hard identifying the ‘labor pains’ (OK – ladies, not those type of labor pains) in our remodeling and building world. I bet you’ll relate to these challenges:
- Challenge #1 – Our kids aren’t flocking to ‘get into the trades’ – It would be nice if construction work was the hottest industry for younger kids like it is to be in the IT field. It’s not. I can even relate to this trend as my 24-year-old son Grant has started his first professional job in ‘of all fields’ – Information Technology!
- Challenge #2 – Our borders aren’t too friendly – No matter where you stand on immigration, it’s simple to see the barriers to working in the United States in construction are getting higher. With 25% of our construction labor force considered to be ‘foreigners,’ this challenge is not going away any time soon.
- Challenge #3 – Competitor poaching has become a ‘bloody sport’ – If you’ve ever had an employee ‘stolen’ from you by a competitor you know how painful this can be. In commercial construction some companies are posting signs at their competitors jobs sites boasting higher hourly pay looking to steal employees. With a smaller pool of immediately-qualified plumbers, electricians, framers etc. – these ‘dirty-pool’ poaching tactics, I’m afraid to say, is here to stay.
However, I’m also happy to tell you there’s hope for the future.
In this article I sought out leaders of progressive and fast-growing remodeling and building companies who are smarter than the pack. They’re using practical, inspirational and common-sense ideas to stay ahead of the anorexically thin hiring market.
I’m going to share 10 practical ideas, many of which I learned by interviewing 3 bright people you’ll ‘meet’ in this post, which can help you win the battle with the lack-of-labor in your market.
Let’s dig into the ideas.
Idea #1 to solve the construction labor crisis – Start ‘spreadin’ the news’, “I’m good, I’m busy, I’m hiring.”
When you’re at a networking event and someone asks you, “How are you today?” Do you answer (like a Debbie or Donnie Downer), “I’m fine, or start complaining about how you’re struggling to find good people?”
If so Chris Peterson (Co-Owner of Schloegel Design Remodel in Kansas City Missouri) would tell you to get your act together. This ‘fine or complaint-filled’ downer language is not in his vocab.
Here’s what Chris would say, “I’m good. I’m busy. I’m hiring.”
Chris will tell (anyone whose listening) his business is open to bringing in fresh talent. If you don’t think his networking mantra is working, he’d tell you how today he gets random calls from prospective employees who were referred from people he barely remembers meeting.
His positive nature (and repetitive message) has prospective employees seeking him out. Chris is ‘spreadin’ the news’ he’s busy and hiring. People are responding.
Idea #2 to solve the construction labor crisis – Just make room
According to Aaron Enfinger, General Manager of The Cleary Company in Columbus Ohio, “If you wait until you need to hire, it’s already too late.”
Aaron gave me some sage advice on this topic. He said, “Mike, you just need to make room when you find the right person.”
While in a ‘perfect’ financial and hiring world you and I would wait until we desperately need someone to make a hire, we’ll be swimming upstream trying to find the perfect person (which likely doesn’t exist anyway). This is a bigger problem IF we do it at the last minute when we’re desperate to hire.
As Johnnie Cochran wouldn’t say, “If you find a potential employee who fits …. you must not acquit.”
Idea #3 to solve the construction labor crisis – Don’t hire employees…empower a movement!
All you have to do is talk to Robyn Garton of Pink Belts Roofing and Construction in Alberta, Canada one time on the phone and you’ll feel her passion to bring labor equality for women in construction oozing through the phone lines.
You see, Robyn experienced first-hand discrimination as a woman in the male-dominated roofing world. As she would say, “Girls are getting less hours. Girls are being paid less.”
Robyn is a one-woman demolition crew on a mission to blow up this nonsense.
You’ll often find Robyn speaking at high schools, universities, conferences (or even at restaurant tables – more about this later) sharing her new business model. This model is built on embracing women who lead a ‘cleaner’ lifestyle (‘er they’re not out partying all weekend, drinking their paycheck away and can’t make it in on Monday morning). She’s determined to not only hire women but help them grow a career in construction.
However, there is even a bigger ‘spin’ Robyn puts on this career opportunity.
You see Robyn hires and trains women (from any field) who have the desire to learn, but also a realistic understanding this industry is (as Robyn would say), “A heads down, ass up industry.” Robyn’s company not only trains these women in the skills of construction, but also to become entrepreneurs.
Her goal is simple. Train them in the skills. Then partner with these same women to be subcontractors to her general construction and remodeling business. How cool is that? She is growing her own subs!
Now Robyn (somewhat like Lebron James, but she’s not going to South Beach) is bringing her talents to the United States. She’s been touring U.S. cities determining where to launch her women-empowered remodeling business concept.
While on a recent trip to New Orleans her new-business model even made it hard for her to eat in peace. She got to talking to the wait staff about what she is doing. The next thing she knew it half the girls from the kitchen were lining up to see how they could join her team also.
You see these ladies in the service industry could smell a BIG opportunity staring them in the face. Why stay in the low-paying, hard-working service industry when a future job growing an entrepreneurial construction business can be their future?
How impressive is Robyn’s mission? Pretty impressive in my book.
Idea #4 to solve the construction labor crisis – Use products and systems which reduce (or eliminate) field labor.
If you bought a new washer at your local big-box store and the dude or dudess who came to install dumped out a bunch of parts across your family room floor and started ‘putting the pieces’ together, would you look at them like they were nuts? I certainly would.
I would expect my new washer was prebuilt and ready to install.
However, when it comes to remodeling, or building a new home, the labor-intensive, site-installed, piece by piece installation process is the world you and I live in.
It involves a LOT of trades. It involved a LOT of pieces parts. It involves a LOT of coordination.
The bottom line of this process is….it takes too long and costs too much.
I believe the labor shortage has put you and I on the front-side of a revolution which WILL change our construction world. Companies like Katterra (armed with a boat-load of investment capital) are using factories (and pre-built constructed modules) to revolutionize our industry. More things will be built off site. More panelized systems are coming…by necessity (because there aren’t enough field people to build what’s needed using the ‘old model’).
I’m personally living in this panelization movement.
I started importing a line of click, lock and seal’ grout free tub and shower wall panels. They take labor out of bathroom remodeling yet look as cool as actual ceramic tile. This system uses 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick laminate wall panels, which eliminates ‘grout-cleaning-hassles’ for homeowner, building owners and investors.
Since these panels click together (like laminate flooring) remodelers, builders and general contractors can use less skilled labor (and not be reliant on hard-to-find tile setters) to get jobs done quicker, without compromising style.
This is one small example of panelized systems revolutionizing the building and remodeling industry.
Ask yourself, “Am I using enough component or system-built products to ease the too-few-people-available noose around my neck?”
Idea #5 to solve the construction labor crisis – ‘Use’ (in a nice way) your vendor partners
Think about your relationship with your vendor sales reps today. Do you only ‘use’ them to get better pricing or dig deeper when you need technical insights outside your ‘pay grade?’
If so, according to Chris Peterson, you’re missing the boat, or the room addition or remodel you can’t get to because of lack of labor.
For example, if you think about it, your trim salesperson calls on companies (and small business owners) who are rough and finished carpenters. These are people you’re looking to hire.
Maybe your vendor sales rep knows someone who is sick and tired of running their own business. Maybe they know someone working for a ‘crabby-butt’ boss who treats them like crap.
Put the word out to your reps. People who know people, know the people you need to hire!
Idea #6 to solve the construction labor crisis – ‘Spread the love around’
In a perfect world as a remodeler or builder, you’ll find a subcontractor who not only performs well for you but is able to grow their staff as you grow. They’re able to get all your jobs done with a high level of quality, on time, every time for you.
The problem is…this strategy works…until it doesn’t (and your subcontractor can’t find the staff to keep up with their orders).
When this happens, this is when Aaron from The Cleary Company says you need to ‘spread the love around.’ It’s time to bring in another sub. While it’s nice to stay loyal to your trade partners, it’s not smart if you’re not meeting completion deadlines due to their lack of staff. After all, reliable subs are an extension of your business.
Idea #7 to solve the construction labor crisis – Show them the money!
Good people know good people. It’s as simple as that.
Good people who work on your team know your culture. They know the job expectations. They know the type of person who’ll thrive in your company with your customers.
It’s smart to involve your team (who knows what you’re looking for) in the recruiting process. Aaron (and Mark) have embraced this concept. They offer a referral bonus to existing employees to bring new people in who stick with the biz.
Idea #8 to solve the construction labor crisis – Set up an in-house apprenticeship program.
I know this idea may be challenging for small builders and remodelers. However, as past President of his local NARI chapter and someone whose been knee-deep in industry workforce development efforts, Chris from Schloegel was determined to not to sit by and wait for great talent to show up on his doorstep.
Chris set up his own ‘somewhat formal’ apprenticeship program in his company. They developed a checklist so ‘newbies’ would not only have visual milestones to meet, but it gave them skill goals to achieve to get bumps in pay.
This system is a win-win program for the company and the young employee. The apprentices learn more. They become more useful. They get ‘mo money.
Idea #9 to solve the construction labor crisis – Get on the ‘construction skills speaking circuit’
OK – I’ve got to be honest. There is no ‘speaking circuit’ to join to talk, influence, and motivate high school vocational-ed, college construction management students or women working in the service industry about careers in the remodeling/building world.
However, I know from Aaron, Chris and Robyn (and through my own experience talking to student at Fort Hayes Career Center and Columbus State Community College) you need to recruit and inspire where the talent is. You can’t wait for students (or adults eager to get out of dead-end jobs) to come to you. You have to go to them.
As Chris mentioned to me, “Mike, we have to beat the drum that remodeling is not a back-alley, hidden dark industry.”
Sure, we have positions swinging hammers and running construction jobs, but there’s also careers in sales, design, finance and general management.
As you and I know, our industry has progressed far beyond simply being a ‘Chuck in a Truck’ world.
Are you doing enough, saying enough and speaking enough to get the word out?
Idea #10 to solve the construction labor crisis – Be open to ‘hiring a CPA’
Back in the old days (before the Great Recession and people leaving our industry, before remodeling and building was so hot you couldn’t find anyone) if you placed an ad for a Project Manager you could expect success finding someone who had the job title before. Today, hiring is not so simple. You’re lucky to find someone with previous experience in the specific job you’re looking to hire.
In today’s market the question becomes how can you find the ‘right person’ or someone ‘close enough’ to train and bring along, who can be successful…eventually?
According to Chris Peterson you need to stay open and be creative. This is exactly what Chris did when he was approached for a job by a handy guy with a CPA who wanted to be a lead carpenter (and leave the financial world behind).
Although – in a perfect world – Chris would have INSISTED his new hire have all the lead carpenter skills required, he knew this is NOT the real-world you and I live in today.
Today, Chris sees the need to be creative in the hiring process. He looks for someone with the potential to do most of the job and has the right attitude to succeed.
A good question to ask ourselves in the hiring process is, “are we open to being creative and hiring the non-traditional candidate?” Our future may depend on answering ‘yes’ to this question.
While I don’t know any of these 10 practical ideas qualifies as ‘earth-shattering,’ when taken together these common-sense ways to work on the labor crisis have enabled these 3 uber-successful remodeling entrepreneurs. Their companies are progressing – despite a tight labor market.
If you want to improve your labor challenges, I’d suggest you reach out to Aaron, Chris and Robyn. They’re oozing with fantastic (and practical) ideas, IMHO.
If you want to learn more about waterproof wall panels (hey, after all I’ve to pay my bills somehow – ha! ha!) and want to learn how to become a bathroom panel wall dealer – call 877-668-5888 and ask for Mike (or the crazy remodeling-business-blogger who writes these posts). I’m looking forward to getting to know you and helping our businesses grow.
If you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you’ll find me https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikefoti/
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