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Building an enduring work force

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There is a crisis within the construction industry which has been developing for more than a decade. It's a problem that affects nearly every contractor regardless of size or type of work. Although the sharply increasing prices of construction material are of tremendous concern, there is an even greater hurdle contractors must now face. That problem is the shortage of a skilled work force. The current construction work force is experiencing a collective "brain drain." As skilled workers retire or altogether leave the industry, they take knowledge and abilities that are hard to replace. Other industries are experiencing the same problem and each is competing with the construction industry for a shrinking pool of qualified applicants. The result is often that top applicants never even apply to contractors. The workers who are replacing the existing work force typically do not have the same level of skills. So even if you find good applicants, it takes a lot of time and training to bring them up to the level of their predecessors. A dismal picture, yes, but there is hope. Successful companies throughout the country are proving that employing a skilled work force is not only a goal, but it is an everyday reality. There are processes and procedures that your company can put in place which will ensure a skilled work force both now and in future years -- in fact, even access to the best-of-the-best applicants. Sound too good to be true? Well, it's not -- but there is a catch. Your company has to have an active training culture in place. In short, this means that training must become an integral part of the corporate culture. Training cannot be viewed as a burden, but as an opportunity for long-term success, and an important responsibility that must be shared by everyone. Training has to be part of every process and procedure your company utilizes in its business and building operation. Take a quick look at your company. Is training part of the company vision, mission and goals? If so, you are starting on the path to developing a training culture. Does your company budget, manage and promote training opportunities? If so, your company is ahead of the pack and ready to reap the benefits of maintaining a quality skilled work force, even when faced with a dwindling skilled labor pool and an industry-wide labor shortage. What can a simple thing like a training culture do for your company? Here are a few real life examples of contractors who have training cultures:

* One ABC member contractor receives anywhere between 50 and 100 applications each month! The difference about these applications is they are referrals from other employees or in some cases, customers themselves. This contractor has its pick of top applicants in the community, primarily because of the employee opportunities it offers. * Another member gives a training manual to each new employee. What makes the manual unique is that it has very few words. It contains pictures of equipment and work processes. There is a test given at specific periods of time to the new employee and the results reflect on the supervisor! Training progress is monitored and evaluated regularly. * Another member puts up a see-through sturdy Plexiglas panel during school remodeling projects so the students can watch the construction process in action. The contractor also has its supervisors schedule talks with the students. * One member has a week-long orientation and training process for new employees that includes discussions of the company's goals and structure. It includes safety training and training on basic work processes. When a new employee walks on a jobsite for the first time, that employee is prepared to be productive right away. * Some members have regular or annual employee awards programs, where employees are publicly recognized by co-workers and peers for particular accomplishments or for reaching specified goals or benchmarks in training. Recipients receive inexpensive framed certificates and are also given small prizes -- gift certificates for dinner or shopping. In the case of outstanding accomplishments, the award has been a weekend getaway at a local hotel. * Many members make copies of the ABC monthly training calendar and training opportunities and use them as payroll stuffers -- some even add incentives for successful completion of particular classes. * Many of our contractors hold in-house supervision and leadership training and some even invite members of the surrounding community to attend -- to get a taste of the industry and opportunities available within it. * Many of our contractors have developed mentoring programs to allow the highly skilled and experienced worker or manager to impart his or her knowledge to less experienced staff. They hold mandatory monthly training sessions or require periodic "job shadowing."

These are just a few of the types of strategies used by ABC member contractors to attract and retain their work force. No matter what the activity, the goal is to establish the company as a presence within its community. The best way to do that is through company involvement with its employees and with the community. When training becomes the vehicle for that involvement everyone wins. The skilled worker shortage will not be solved overnight, but by developing and utilizing a company training culture, you can ensure that your company has better chance at retaining a competent workforce. As your training partner, ABC is here to help, and can assist with a wide range of training programs and opportunities.

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