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Executive coach: Engagement central to closing construction skills gap

If construction stakeholders find it difficult to attract skilled workers now, what can they expect in a decade? Those unwilling or unable to effectively attract, engage and retain their workforce will pay the consequences in the not-so-distant future, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, which is promoting best management practices through its ConExpo-Con/Agg 360 program.

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Attracting talent stands to become even more difficult in the future for construction employers, AEM concludes.

“The onus is on companies now to actively engage employees. If employees don’t like it somewhere, they’ll just leave,” contends Integrated Leadership Systems Ethan Martin, who as consultant and executive coach shares these action steps for AEM members and other construction employers:

Attitude adjustment. Successfully tackling workforce engagement necessitates a shift in both attitude and strategy for many construction companies. “Employees are changing, the world and the market is changing. [Companies] have to be willing to face that reality, and it’s not for better or for worse, it’s just different,” says Martin. Successful workforce engagement activities are interconnected with other organizational aspects, he adds, noting “As long as workforce engagement is viewed as something separate, it becomes the uninteresting piece, or something like a task or a responsibility, rather than just being incorporated into what’s being done.”

Commit time and resources now. Companies often cite a lack of time and resources as a reason why they fall short in employee engagement efforts. Measurable progress takes time, and the majority of workforce engagement efforts do not yield results for years.

One organization Martin works with recently began reaching out to high school students and collaborating with local career centers, leadership mindful that it won’t see the fruits of such work for two to four years. “However, the company is doing this now, so when the lack of skilled labor is even more of an issue in the future, it will have built up its reputation as the go-to employer in the area,” he observes. Cost concerns serve as another common reason for not engaging employees consistently and effectively. However, contractors must recognize employee investment as being critical to organizational success.

“Too many companies fear investment in current employees or future employees, even to the point where they actually end up losing them,” says Martin. “The investment, as it turns out, would have cost them less than replacing the employee.”

Hire for character first. “The way we find and train people, you can teach anyone to do anything if he or she has good character,” says Martin. “And if the good-character employee actually moves on at some point, you won’t be left in the lurch because the person won’t just up and leave in the middle of a big project.”