ind Your Company's From Leaders
Help employees reach their full potential to maintain a skilled and safe workforce

The shortage of skilled labor in the construction industry is one of the key issues discussed by trade associations, government agencies and individual contractors. While much of the conversation has focused on the need for more craft workers, much less attention has been paid to a potentially larger issue—the difficulty of finding competent frontline supervision.

Find Your Company's Frontline Leaders

Promote From Within

Project managers and superintendents are the two industry roles cited as the hardest to find, according to a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and SmartBrief. This is consistent with feedback received from construction insurance customers.

Contractors frequently face the decision of whether to fill leadership roles with external candidates or to promote existing employees. There are benefits and challenges to both approaches. By promoting from within, a contractor can retain employees who understand and appreciate the firm's history and business culture. Those employees are typically more likely to want to grow, learn and assume more responsibility with the company.

However, one of the greatest challenges of promoting within the company is finding a suitable replacement; those promoted are often the most productive and competent employees.

Teach Leadership

It is important to consider how much influence this employee will have on safety. A contractor's ability to successfully manage and control risk is highly dependent on having the right leaders at a job site to model and promote best practices and to ensure individual accountability for practicing safe work habits. Relatively new frontline leaders may not fully appreciate the connection between their management style and job site safety. This increases the importance of providing training to those who are promoted to leadership positions before they are given the responsibility of adapting newly-hired external candidates into a contractor's culture.

Training programs that address the development of future leaders can improve retention by hiring quality workers and instituting robust training programs that address employee engagement, leadership, communications and coaching.

Engage With Sound Hiring

Employee engagement is one of the most common reasons for job satisfaction. Nurturing better engagement should begin at the start of employment. Contractors must take steps to hire the right workers in the first place. As difficult as it is to find skilled workers, relaxing hiring standards just to fill a position can lead to serious issues.

Finding the right worker starts with clearly outlining the job responsibilities and then interviewing the candidate to inquire about previous experience. This includes how they view their personal responsibility in promoting a safe work environment. Calling references should be a very important part of the decision process.

Depending on state requirements, it may be appropriate to include background checks, pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings, equipment screenings, equipment certifications, motor vehicle records and physical exams. Although qualified job candidates may be scarce, it's still important to leverage these tools to make the right hiring decisions.

Foster a Culture of Safety

Safety training and leadership development for new employees are crucial factors in helping reduce accidents. Insurance claim data shows that new employees often experience more accidents. To help minimize injuries to new employees, senior management needs to be committed to the communication and enforcement of a safety program. Jobsite orientations for new workers are extremely important in establishing a safety culture. Site foremen and project superintendents should be given the authority to address unsafe practices and behavior.

Implementing strategies that help more experienced workers identify the new workers on a job site can be helpful in keeping inexperienced employees safe. For example, having new workers wear hard hats that are a different color from experienced workers and badges to signify that they are new to the company are two ways to help identify new employees. These methods enable experienced workers to recognize a new employee and potentially intervene before an accident occurs.

Lead By Example

Assigning a mentor is another effective strategy for contractors to set expectations for following company procedures and help minimize injuries. Mentors should be experienced and effective communicators with a deep understanding of the firm's culture. They must be willing to take on extra responsibility for the success of new workers. Mentors can also provide valuable feedback to managers so they can evaluate the attributes of the new worker and determine whether the new worker is equipped to do the job safely and thoroughly.

Take the Next Step

As new employees gain experience and are identified as potential leaders, management can round out their training through added emphasis on situational awareness, problem solving and injury risk factor identification. Furthermore, future leaders need to be trained in post-injury management, as actions taken by a supervisor are critical to help ensure that injuries do not become more serious. The supervisor should be taught to respond in a timely and non-judgmental way, and whenever feasible, should escort the injured worker to an occupational medical facility. In many cases, taking these steps can foster goodwill on the part of the injured worker and may help to get him or her back to work sooner.

Foremen and superintendents need to be able to properly analyze accidents in order to help prevent future occurrences. The economics of safety, risk management and insurance basics should be included in the training program.

Ultimately, every business wants its employees to reach their full potential. The recent AGC and SmartBrief survey also revealed that nine out of 10 respondents plan to spend the rest of their careers in the construction industry. By thinking about how you can help employees grow, you can improve the odds that your top employees will choose to stay with your company.

As a new employee becomes a contractor's top craft worker and shows that the employee is ready for increased responsibilities, management should make sure he/she has the additional training needed to succeed before assuming those duties. Doing so can help your firm maintain a skilled and safe workforce.