For this edition of the Fast 5—a Q&A series spotlighting the insights and expertise of construction industry experts—Roofing & Exteriors spoke with Brad Humphrey, VP of human resources operations at Pavecon. Humphrey shared his insights on the perennial issue of labor shortages, getting creative with recruiting and making the most of the resources you already have.
Pavecon is an industry-leading paving contractor serving multiple states throughout the country. The company has delivered asphalt and concrete services to the construction industry for nearly three decades. Humphrey spoke and presented at the International Roofing Expo in 2021, where he led two educational sessions focused on managing customer expectations and understanding the four corners of field leadership excellence.
What creative ways can roofing and exteriors companies use to address labor and staffing shortages?
Brad Humphrey (BH): To start, the old standard way isn't cutting it. There was a day in time, not too long ago, when contractors would put up a sign on the front lawn saying, "Hey, we're hiring!" Those days aren't here anymore. There aren't 10 people waiting to get in.
You're going to have to get more involved, certainly, with social media—whether it's LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter or something else.
Is it worth exploring other nontraditional ways of recruiting?
BH: Absolutely. These days, I'm going into high schools, where many of the larger districts are starting to bring back training of labor skills and getting to know those teachers and programs. I'm also going into more junior and community colleges than ever.
The greatest thing is that I've really started to make some leads with groups like the National Guard and the reservists. Many of these men and women are already performing tasks that often are exactly what we're looking for.
For example, Class A drivers are gold right now. They're hard to find. So, we're beginning to see an uptick in interest and availability from people in a few of the areas mentioned above, particularly the military, and we're certainly making the most of that.
What pivotal changes can leaders make when they're looking to grow and expand a business?
BH: The first thing is that you've got to make sure you're taking care of the people you have right now. The people issue is overwhelming most contractors because we've never dealt with it like this.
We were already hurting for workers before COVID-19 hit, but the pandemic exasperated it further and brought it out more. As a result, most contractors are still saying that they need to hire multiple people.
But there's another reason here, too, and it's that we have 20%-30% of our current workforce that are leaders or skilled laborers who are retiring in the next three to four years. The end of the baby boom is finally reaching us, and it's serious. We don't have enough younger-blood people coming in.
Second, you need to start doing more training than you've ever done before if you're going to maintain your business.
Third, you've got to make sure you're doing quality work. When you make a mistake, to replace that mistake is not just twice the amount of energy and effort; it's three times the amount. That's why a lot of contractors that go into business dreaming of things may struggle. If you don't get a handle on your quality and on doing things right the first time, it can knock you out of business.
What common hurdles do construction owners need to overcome in coaching employees toward better performance?
BH: You have to use all the mediums. This is true for many industries, but especially for construction, on-the-job was always the top way of training. There is still a lot of that, but I do think we have to use YouTube videos. In our company, we're videotaping more and more of the technical work in addition to leadership and development training. We're taping our crews at work so we can use that as training for new workers.
If you don't do that, you're going to be so far behind because most workers today and most of the younger people coming in have very little to no experience. There was a day not too long ago when, if your dad was a carpenter, you might be a carpenter, and maybe your grandfather was a carpenter. Those days are almost gone, and we have such a plethora of students in high schools and in more inner-city areas who haven't been exposed to construction.
Yet I've found when I've worked with these kids that when they get a chance to see things done that they worked on—when they get to see the result of plumbing a line or running electric or HVAC—it is huge for their confidence. If I have young people who know even the basics of "concrete is gray, asphalt is black," that is a huge step in the right direction.
Owners will need to take a more proactive effort in training and development. There just aren't enough resources out there yet.
What new avenues are needed to reach potential employees?
BH: Of course, we're doing job fairs; we attended a job fair in Mississippi for our division there, and we ended up hiring two or three people from the National Guard. They're already practicing some of the necessary skills; they were in the construction battalion, so they had a lot of the skills we're looking for.
We need to get more creative as an industry and also make use of the people who are retiring. If you have an individual who wants to retire, let them enjoy their retirement, and usually, when the honey-dos are done at home and retirement is a bit less exciting, that retired worker may be looking to come back even for 15 or 20 hours per week.
They can turn into great shadows, teachers and coaches, especially if they're good communicators and know what they are doing. Businesses could draw a great source of coaching from retirees after they've gone.