Drainage Contractor

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Attracting millennials

Enticing the next generation of contractors.

May 9, 2016  By Corey Rimmer and Merlin Welch

The term “millennials” is usually considered to apply to individuals who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century. The precise delineation varies from one source to another, however, for purposes of this article we will place millennials as born between 1980 and 2000.

Millennials do not have a good reputation within the construction industry. Terms like “job-hoppers,” “entitlement,” “no work ethic” and “self-absorbed” have been used to describe this employment cohort, and like it or not, we must understand what makes this group tick.

A career in construction – including contracting and any of the other trades – has a lot to offer this generation. Working in an environment that is always upgrading, expanding and growing gives access to long-term growth and a sustainable economic future.

Companies with a better understanding of what motivates and engages this generation and who can best recruit, manage and mobilize labor will be better positioned to secure and keep talent and provide for their needs.


The following emphasizes three tips on how you can begin attracting and retaining young people in the construction industry.

Emphasize people and safety
Millennials have grown up in an era of intense child protection. As they’ve aged, millennials have been consistently confronted with safeguards implemented by adults. This has been a constant since they were young and they’ve come to expect it. Long gone are the days of wandering latchkey kids and leaving your front and back doors unlocked and open all night. Millennials just didn’t grow up with it – and they probably prefer it that way.

If it already isn’t, make safety a priority at your company and make safety a core part of your construction brand. Not only will it appeal to potential customers, but prospective young employees will respect it as well. Publish your safety record to appeal to both the public and to your potential employees.

The commitment to safety from any workforce starts with the management team. Demonstrate your commitment to protecting your workers by hiring or designating a safety manager(s) and pushing your employees to go through online and hands-on training and education. Remember, recognizing their training efforts in some way – be it a small reward, a certificate or a wallet-sized card – goes a long way in job satisfaction.

Promote technology
Adapting a workplace to suit the needs of the millennial generation has taken some innovation by construction management and a lot of understanding from experienced workers in the industry. Millennials want a clear career path that allows for development opportunities and are looking for more contemporary incentives to stay motivated.

Millennials are smart: this age group is considered to be the most educated in the United States, with 34 percent holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. Although graduating from college isn’t a requirement to be considered intelligent, it does indicate one is trained to think and make decisions at an advanced level, with skills required for project planning, group collaboration, and meeting deadlines – all critical parts of being successful in the construction industry.

Encourage your employees to continue their education. Merlin Welch, a member of the Land Improvement Contractors of America and educator for the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) says, “Programs like the NCCER are geared towards developing an individual’s skills with technology and working with their hands. Encouragement throughout each training module of learning reinforces the student’s desire to succeed by awarding a certificate of achievement at the completion of each course of study.”

Millennials are tech-savvy. They readily keep abreast of advances in consumer electronics, personal computing, mobile communications and Internet technologies. They have been called the tech generation, which speaks to their comfort level in using devices, software and online networks. As the construction industry becomes more dependent on technology, millennials’ comfort and familiarity with technology will make them a great asset to construction firms. Take pictures of your machinery and equipment using today’s technology of GPS tracking, 3D site imagery, lasers and unmanned aerial systems, and any others to post onto your website, social media and recruiting efforts.

Create a path to success
Companies who directly recruit with high schools, community colleges, junior colleges, career and technical education programs and contractor associations generally have had a lot of success, particularly if the recruiter takes the time to have one-on-one meetings with potential candidates. By reaching out to guidance counselors and vocational technology teachers, one should be able to identify high school students with technology skills and who like working with their hands. In addition, community and junior colleges tend to have slightly older and mature students. Many of these students have held previous jobs so any interest in construction should be taken seriously.  

“This recruiting effort should not be taken lightly. It must be ongoing, each semester at college and year after year,” Welch advises. “There must be a concerted investment in time, energy and money. There has to be sincere communication in order to develop trust at both the company and student level. Companies can also benefit by offering a place for field trips, donations of materials and supplies, summer employment or an internship.”

Millennials seek out a workplace where they can find coaches and mentors, not bosses and managers. Establish a mentoring system. New recruits need leadership and guidance as they figure out where their strengths lie and what positions interest them the most. Senior management should be accessible and new millennial employees should be paired with more experienced workers who not only want to be mentors, but also want to learn new skills themselves, such as social media or construction apps.

There is a skilled labor shortage within the construction industry, however, this creates an opportunity for those firms with the proper recruitment and image enhancement practices who know how to attract the next generation to the workforce to not only survive this shortage, but to thrive.

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