How to attract great employees.
By Eric Cox
Depending on who you listen to, the economy is either doing well or not doing well at all. Whether we are ultimately in a recovery or recession, one challenge remains: How do we recruit and retain good employees? In the pavement and construction world the answer is not as simple as great pay and benefits, steady work and free coffee in the break room. The answer is more complex as this traditionally family-owned, blue collar industry transforms and adapts to a new reality of what it means to be an attractive employer to a new generation of workers. Generally, service providers are beginning to recognize the rising stakes of employee investment starting with the first interaction with potential new hires. Those new hires along with the existing workers and staff are directly tied to the growth potential of a company. A vendor’s ability to retain key employees and fill openings with reliable and skilled workers can no longer be left to chance.
As small and medium blue collar companies partner with larger corporations to execute programs and services, the successful ones are adopting more standardized hiring practices in order to better meet corporate standards and compete for those larger, more lucrative projects. More and more corporations are examining the infrastructure of their vendors, including looking at hiring practices and employee retention, as a way to evaluate their overall viability. With so much potential impact on their reputation and brands, portfolio and facility managers are being tasked to find the most professional and stable partners for even the smallest service or program. Corporations are researching their vendors far beyond simple quote comparisons and are factoring in Key Performance Indicators or KPIs, looking for additional value over the life of the relationship.
So where are all of the good workers? Anyone running or working for a company knows the value of engaged, motivated and invested employees. They also know the damage even one poorly positioned worker can inflict no matter their skill or experience level. If we are to compete, first with others in the same or similar fields and also in the wider applicant pools for the best available talent (yes, talent), some creativity and true self-evaluation must happen.
To understand where to go, we must first look back in time. In the paving industry, for instance, family businesses started as small asphalt and concrete operations often as a supplement or expansion of an existing service like landscaping or construction. The owner of the company wore many hats including hiring. He or she led a workforce that included immediate and/or extended family members and well-known or life-long friends. There was a collective investment and accountability when it came to quality of work, customer satisfaction and outcomes. A customer could call the office and speak to the CEO or their spouse or brother or mother. That feeling of doing business with people you actually knew was the essence of the industry from the beginning and much of that spirit still exists today in the paving world. That same personal approach was applied to hiring (and sometimes firing) too. If the local factory had a round of layoffs, or if your friend from high school just got out of the military or someone just showed up one day in search of an honest day’s work, you took them on. In good times, when there was more work than workers, your siblings or other relatives pitched in on weekends. In tough times you tightened your belt but kept everyone on you could.
Today the challenge of finding skilled laborers and leaders for your workforce can be difficult for many reasons. Gone are the days of calling relatives or friends to lend a hand in a bind. Even the smallest operations have liabilities and state and federal labor regulations to follow. Once you have attracted candidates, there is an application, interview, references and background checks. Proper licenses, certifications and drug testing for certain jobs are also mandatory in most states. Resist shortcuts to reconcile staffing issues even in times of dire need. The stakes and expectations are simply too high in today’s business environment.
Any effort to circumvent sound and legal hiring procedures will only undermine all of your other good business practices and by extension the good people you already have onboard. Investing time and resources into your hiring process is good business. Keep in mind, your professional reputation is attached to every person you hire.
As the first and second generation founding families get older and retire and smaller operations grow and expand, the need for experienced, competent and most importantly like-minded staff and crews becomes increasingly more difficult. Incentives like sign-on bonuses and employee rewards for bringing in new recruits are more common now than ever before. While enticing and perhaps a way to increase the number of applicants, they do not necessarily address the challenge of quality or caliber of potential new hires. That does not discount the value and importance of candidates recommended by current employees or other trusted sources, however. When it comes to a good fit for your business, who is better qualified to judge than the people who know the company best? In the crowded and highly competitive world of talent acquisition, who you are as a company — your values and professional reputation — can be a strong determining indicator of the types of applicants you attract and retain.
Just as our clients and potential clients research us online or hear of us through word of mouth, potential candidates do the same. Current job seekers are also conducting their own interview of your company. What are they looking for? They are looking for evidence of overall organizational stability, employee camaraderie and some sense of loyalty from the employer. At the end of the day, a potential new employee wants to feel accepted and appreciated at his or her workplace. Whether it is special recognition of a highly performing employee or a Friday afternoon pizza party, it all counts and it is all noticed by job seekers. Easily found websites that are intuitive and updated, active social media and a commitment to community service matter to a younger generation of applicants. How a company represents itself, from the sign on the building to the incoming phone call greeting, help top talent form an opinion.
In order to position your company to compete, defining and evaluating solid hiring practices is a must. In the paving world, we know our Number 1 asset is the people who come to work and meet the many challenges of our industry every day. While the mom and pop spirit of small business ownership endures to this day, upgraded procedures and due diligence around hiring and retaining talent is paying off for those willing to invest in their workers like never before. There are many contributing factors to success in business but no significant growth is possible without first having a strong workforce executing the plan and vision to go forward.
— Eric Cox is the director of marketing & communications at U.S. Pavement Services, Inc., which consists of more than 150 employees and the 1-800-PAVEMENT network, consisting of more than 240 pavement and asphalt maintenance contractors throughout the U.S. and Canada. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.