THE MAGAZINE FOR PROFESSIONALS

How the Labor Shortage is Going to Make You Change Your Business

Art Snarzyk

Labor shortageA recent national survey by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 86% of construction companies are having a tough time filling jobs.

At a time when demand for construction and remodeling is growing, the labor shortage may very well be your biggest obstacle to success and growth in the future.

While the reasons for the current shortage are beyond your control—from seasoned pros leaving the industry entirely during the downturn of 2008 to fewer young people entering the trades, etc.— how you respond to it is in your control.

CHANGE YOUR BUSINESS

Did I catch your attention? I am not suggesting you close your business and start a new one in a different industry. But you do need to become a different kind of business with a new mind-set that will help you grow.

In the past, you may have thought of yourself first and foremost as a painting, remodeling, or construction company. And, of course, those are the services you provide. But if the goal is to do more of that service for more people, you are going to need more people to help you do it. Doing the work is the easy part. Changing the overall strategy of your business may be more difficult.

Become a recruiting company

As a ‘recovering painting contractor’ who ran my own company for nine years, I remember how much more nimble my company became when I started focusing on gaining the next A-Players as much as I did finding the next great customer. Once I became proficient at recruiting, the selling actually became easier because I knew I had the pool of talent to deliver on the promises I was making.

So how do you recruit effectively? First, you should factor the two types of employees you need to reach— people new to the industry and existing tradespeople.

You have to recognize that for many years, young people have been hearing all the reasons they should go to college. Very few understand the benefits of your line of work. It’s your job to enlighten them. Good reasons include: less (or even no) student debt, more autonomy, pride and satisfaction in their work, the ability to take that skill anywhere, and the self-esteem that comes from finishing a job from the start.

If you can’t explain the rewards of a career in the paint industry concisely and articulately, start practicing. Mastering this ‘pitch’ is essential to attracting new talent.

Existing tradespeople already know some of the benefits of the work. Demonstrate to this group why it is better to do that work for your company. Maybe you have specific benefits, beliefs, or a culture that cannot be found elsewhere. Spend some time thinking about why your company is better than the one just down the road.

Once you’ve nailed down your differentiation messaging, share it with everyone in your company. Let them know the type of talent you’re looking for and encourage them to share your message with others who might want to join you. But don’t stop at just employees. Share your story and message with customers, colleagues and vendors so they, too, can support your recruiting needs.

BECOME A SELECTION EXPERT

In my consulting practice, I work with businesses to identify the right qualities and help them attract, hire and manage ideal employees. Almost unanimously, customers tell me that when they find the right kind of person, they typically keep them and invest in them, regardless of their skill set. And when they find someone with a great skill set but a terrible attitude, it doesn’t matter how well they do the job, they inevitably let them go. The challenge is being able to identify and recognize the right attributes up front.

To do this, you need to identify the traits and attributes that lead to success in the role you are hiring for. Look at your current and past crews. What are the attributes of your best workers? Are they creative or rule-followers, process-oriented or versatile, leaders or cooperative team players, chatty or withdrawn? Make a list of these traits and attributes and look for them during the interview process. Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions such as, “Tell me what you would do if you showed up at a job and realized there wasn’t enough coating to complete the job?” Or, “Tell me about any conflicts you’ve had on past jobs and how you handled them?” Just be sure that the questions you ask are relevant to the attributes and traits you desire.

In addition to identifying the right traits and attributes, you need to recognize the wrong ones. Again, look at your current and past crews. Who isn’t working out, or who didn’t cut it and why? Note the reasons and keep an eye out for any signs of them in potential hires. Some lessons aren’t worth learning more than once.

BECOME A TRAINING COMPANY

Think you don’t have time for training? I’m willing to bet you have even less time for correcting poorly trained employees, salvaging your customer relationships, and overcoming poor public reviews. You get to choose where you spend your time. I suggest you do it up front.

New recruits to the industry need to get up to speed quickly in order to be effective. And with fewer and fewer training and certification programs for new tradespeople available today, it’s up to you to develop your people’s competency quickly. Documented and repeatable training with a fair and consistent process for evaluating and giving feedback is of the utmost importance.

When developing your training program, I urge you to visit some viewpoints found in the classic business book, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. One specific thought is that each position should be created to be operated by people with the lowest possible level of skill.

Often, many business objectives are lumped into one position. This makes the position difficult, and only true superstars end up being successful at it. This is fine, if you hire all superstars.

Setting up your business to rely only on superstar employees makes growing and expanding unnecessarily difficult. The better approach is to hire specialists; that is people who focus on a narrower set of tasks and needs that tap their greatest strengths. Specialists end up being more successful and, ultimately, happier employees thanks to their success. Plus, specialists are easier to come by than superstars and, should they leave, they’re easier to replace—and won’t leave as big a void in your company during the rehire process.

CHANGE YOUR COMPANY—AND YOUR FUTURE

You really don’t have to change your business too much. Expand how you think of your business and what its core purpose is. If you have a new understanding about how you need to grow and can implement these few tactics, you will be set up to capitalize on potential growth opportunities. Companies that embrace these principles the fastest will be positioned to outgrow their competition over the next decade.

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Art Snarzyk Headshot PortraitArt Snarzyk owns InnerView Advisors and is known as ‘The Turnover Terminator.’ His clients learn to attract, hire and manage only ideal, top-performing staff, and to predict who will be a great long-term fit during the hiring process. Art@InnerViewAdvisors.com

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