Companies boost efforts to retain and grow talent
Faced with intensifying competition for talent in the construction industry, companies are taking their talent management practices to new heights.
There are, of course, the pay bumps, competitive benefits, expanded recruiting and bonuses for existing staff who convince other professionals to join their company. But the competition for talent can’t be won on recruitment efforts alone. Consequently, companies are embracing new efforts to retain and develop their talent through a variety of initiatives from expanded training opportunities, team building programs and transparent management practices to technology purchases, amenitized offices and hours of sheer fun ranging from Friday afternoon barbeques to deep sea fishing excursions in tropical locations.
At Baltimore Fabrication, management creates “career maps that show employees how they can advance in the company,” said Scott Foreman, Executive Vice President. “A few years ago, we adopted a transparent pay scale so the maps show the rates for different positions and the qualifications for each position. If an employee wants to progress in the company, they have a map to follow and we will pay for their training and certifications.”
Gray & Son offers training sessions focused on technical skills and supervisory skills, and recently expanded those training opportunities. The company purchased two heavy equipment simulators and developed nine training modules to teach the fundamentals of operating a variety of machinery. It is also preparing to roll out a formal mentorship program.
“We are really focusing on formal development plans for every employee and beefing up our training programs, both for technical and soft skills,” said Diane Carter, Director of Human Resources at Gray & Son. “A person can come into this organization, start as an entry-level construction worker assigned to one division – concrete, paving, demo, grading, etc. – and move over time to gain experience in other divisions. They can also grow into heavy equipment operators, crew leaders, foremen, estimators and superintendents through a combination of on-the-job experience and company-provided formal training.”
Meanwhile leaders at Wagman have realized that “this new generation of workers always wants to be learning. If we don’t provide training opportunities, people will leave because they aren’t being challenged,” said Jennifer Cramer, Director of Human Resources.
Consequently, Wagman which has always provided extensive technical training, continues to grow its leadership development programs, particularly among the field workforce to provide training in management, communications and other skills.
These programs generate lasting benefits for the individuals and the company, Cramer said. “Each group of participants includes a variety of different positions, and they form a cohesive bond. They lean on each other for suggestions on how to handle different situations.”
Many construction-industry companies are also embracing the trend of more transparent, flattened management.
Baltimore Fabrication “frequently shares company plans with our staff,” Foreman said. “We tell them the things we want to do moving forward. It helps people buy into our plans and realize they are helping to build something.”
HDL Construction holds quarterly, all-hands meetings to both share information about company operations and illicit feedback from employees.
“At first, it was not easy to get people to voice their opinions. It took maybe three or four meetings before people felt comfortable and felt that we were really listening to their thoughts, concerns and ideas about how to make things better,” said Nicole Stone. Several question-and-answer sessions where company leaders solicited input on specific issues helped overcome that challenge.
HDL, like other companies, has also recently invested more time and resources in analyzing individuals’ personalities and workstyles in order to hone management techniques, communications and team dynamics. HDL began using the Dominance Influence Steadiness and Compliance (DISC) test to improve management, aid hiring decisions and identify skills that individual employees could improve.
Blending Work and Fun
Marianne Crampton, President of MK Consulting Engineers, concedes that an excursion to the U.S. Virgin Islands isn’t a standard business practice. But by summer 2021, her staff had been soldiering through the challenges of delivering civil engineering services mid-pandemic for a year and a half.
“Everyone had been working so hard and we felt everyone just needed a break so we carved out an entire week this past summer for strictly teambuilding activities,” Crampton said.
To compensate for the loss of in-person networking and training events during the pandemic, MK had already contracted an executive coach to help the entire staff finetune their leadership, project management and teamwork skills, and to update the company’s vision, mission and strategic plan. To continue that work and give staff a break, MK invited employees along with their spouses and kids to spend a week on the island of St. John and organized Baltimore-based activities and online gatherings for employees who opted to remain in Maryland.
“It was a fun week of teambuilding and gave everybody an entire week to unplug,” said Crampton, adding that a growing number of companies have started offering employees ‘wellness weeks.’
The week, which included several all-hands projects and frank discussions, also helped MK develop a better understanding of its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, and identify several key things to work on in 2022.
In the age of Covid, companies have stepped up myriad efforts to make the workplace a desirable place to be. Those efforts range from catered lunches and company get-togethers to technology purchases and carefully selected office space.
“People really care about the atmosphere that they work in,” Foreman said. “When we first started, our office was an afterthought of our production facility and it was kind of a dump because every penny went into the shop. Trying to get a good, qualified project manager to come work in that environment was tough. These days offices are modeled after Google with hammocks and bars, and amenities influence where people want to work.”
Consequently, when Baltimore Fabrication selected new premises, it moved into the Crown, Cork and Seal Building at the edge of Highlandtown and Greektown.
“Now our offices are in a nice area where there are a couple of restaurants, a gym, a brewery and an axe-throwing place nearby,” Foreman said. “The office itself is an inviting environment that you don’t mind spending time in. Once we moved into really nice space, it became easier to hire for those office positions.”