Anyone skimming the help-wanted ads will find thousands of openings for construction workers. But while the jobs are there for the taking, people with the credentials to fill them are not. According to data generated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 412,000 construction-sector job openings in February. And while there are more jobs than there are tradesmen, the pipeline for new talent is running perilously low. The impact of the nationwide staffing shortage in the trades resonates most strongly among smaller businesses, which often don’t have the splashy profiles that give them first pick of graduating students.
But there is a solution: Forward-thinking businesses are allocating resources for branding to make their companies appeal to millennials and to that oh-so-coveted unicorn, the recent trade-school grad. Here’s how:
1. DIY is for crafts, not construction.
The CEO of a midsized mechanical contractor that services both the private and public sector has always been fortunate to have ample business in the pipeline. So, when her biggest challenge — finding talented tradespeople and managers — went from chronic to dire, she knew she needed to think outside the box. In the construction industry, the instinct among leaders is to invest in “hard” infrastructure like new equipment or bigger warehouses. It’s the rare CEO who opens their wallet for intangibles like branding, but this leader realized that if she didn’t allocate resources to create a brand, she would continue to have trouble attracting the talent she needed to keep her clients happy. She knew that her firm offered a “fun, hardworking” culture that couldn’t be matched by some of her larger competitors, so she doubled down and made it the focus of a new website. Rather than try to do the work in-house, DIY-style, she found a marketing firm that was skilled at using consumer tactics to solve business-to-business (B2B) problems like hers. They brought their team of strategists, photographers and video crew and spent two days shadowing the team, experiencing the daily rhythms and soaking in the unique company vibe. It was an investment that continues to add value. Since the launch of this website seven years ago, the company has seen a dramatic spike in applicants who want to interview, and the company has been much more successful getting professionals of all experience levels to sign on the dotted line. The lesson? When you tally all the costs, it’s less expensive and much more effective to let an expert build from the ground up than it is to try to pull off a DIY renovation of what you already have.
2. Think about the brands and products that resonate with your employees. Then use those as inspiration for your employee-attraction tactics.
All eyes were on a young CEO when she took over the helm of her family’s electrical contracting company. One of the firm’s most pressing needs was to recruit great talent. As a digital native, this new chief knew exactly what was needed: The firm’s current web presence was dusty, desolate and dull — a far cry from the “brand persona” that a modern workforce demands and expects. In today’s ultra-competitive talent market, even classic B2B companies like construction firms need impressive online presences and ways to distinctively communicate the company’s values and culture. The problem? Convincing the company’s founders — who still had a say in capital expenditures — to consider the need for branding. Just like she had to sell her brand to potential employees, she also had to sell the concept of branding to her board. Her shop floor had a distinct vibe that would be very compelling to many tradespeople, but nobody knew about it. So, she hired a firm with experience in consumer marketing techniques to give her company a new look and feel. Using energetic visuals, “spoken-like-a-regular-guy” copy, and the same classic rock that blasts on the shop floor, the marketing firm updated their logo and online presence. And while it didn’t happen overnight, the firm is now on the radar of high-caliber tradespeople, many of whom still talk about their excellent first impression when they Googled the shop. The lesson? A well-crafted brand helps build great first impressions, not only with potential clients but also with potential employees.
3. Keep it real.
Once a B2B company crosses the first major hurdle — inertia — the next step is fun but surprisingly difficult, because it requires introspection and honesty. Companies must showcase the essence of who they are. Is your firm family-friendly, with fishing trips and picnics in the summer, and children whispering to the company’s Santa in the winter? Do your people tend to be big fans of the local sports teams? Do many employees have prior military service? Whatever your company’s “thing” is, highlight it!
Now that you’ve decided who you are, take a close look at your careers page. Ideally, this tab should have videos highlighting some of your team’s career trajectories, a list of all your open positions, and an easy way for candidates to apply or send their resume for future consideration. Remember to also showcase the types of projects you have done or are doing, so people see that you offer the chance to grow professionally (which is important to younger workers), as well as the likelihood of job security (which resonates more strongly among seasoned pros). Your “Missions Accomplished” tab should be updated every three to six months and include photos.
Social media is another way to differentiate yourself among a crowded field. Construction and contractor firms are often hesitant to invest in social media because of the time commitment — and they’re not wrong — but what they may not realize is that an agency specializing in the B2B sector can do all the work for you, often at a much lower cost (and at a much higher level) than attempting it in-house. The lesson? Know thyself … and then don’t be shy about telling everyone.
4. Save your sanity! Leave website creation and content writing to the pros.
Right about now, you’re probably thinking you can’t possibly produce this much content. Relax! Part of the job of a professional agency is to map out strategy and create content on your behalf. They do this by asking questions to help them understand your company, then continue to ask them as your needs evolve. Sure, you can use that friend of your cousin, but then you will be involved in writing content, creating visuals, deciding layout and graphics, and optimizing it all for search engines. An agency has a team with the expertise to produce work based on your goals. That can save you hundreds of hours. Also, if your workforce is more comfortable in a language other than English, hiring experts well-versed in multicultural marketing is always a good idea. This ensures that whatever you are publishing is culturally appropriate and respectful.
But no matter how you decide to build your site, remember that visuals and copy should be consistent, eye-catching and friendly. It’s also important to build a website that is easy to update, so you can add things like new-hire profiles, job-in-progress photos, shoutouts to employees or links to interesting stories. Keeping your public face fresh and dynamic will show potential employees you’re proud of who you are and that you are excited to show the world. This is the type of intangible that can be hugely beneficial in the recruiting process. The lesson? Once you create your brand you need to “feed” it to keep it fresh and current, but with the right help, the task is very manageable.
If construction firms want to increase their flow of candidates, as measured by quantity and quality, then branding initiatives can be quite effective. A carefully constructed external image makes it easier for companies to attract the right employees in a crowded, competitive field.
Image courtesy of Robby Brown + Sundt Construction