There’s a construction worker shortage—but I don’t need to tell you that. While the economy rebounds and the projects roll in, Baby Boomers are leaving but Millennials (the generation born between 1980ish and 2000ish) aren’t taking their place.
Why? Some theories:
- They crave financial stability, and construction work is largely seasonal.
- They value formal education, and construction is an apprentice-based profession.
- They want flexible schedules, and construction is a 9-5 (or, let’s be honest, a 7-6) job.
Without a doubt, those are all valid theories, but there’s not much you—as an individual employer—can do about them.
So I’ve come up with a guide to managing Millennials in construction: Five characteristics of typical Millennials* and practical ways for a business of any size to adjust. Most of these ideas will be an easy adjustment, others will take more planning or resources, but all should help you find and keep the new workers you need.
(*Obviously, people are different and it’s not fair to lump them all together just because of when they were born. But for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to do it anyway.)
1. They Are Motivated by Meaning
Almost 70% of Millennials say giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities. So while they—like most of us—want economic security, they aren’t motivated by it. Instead they want to be proud of the organizations they work for and know they’re making a difference.
#Millennials aren't motivated by $$. They want to know they're making a difference. #biztips Click To Tweet
Give Back, However You Can
Sponsor charity events, do pro bono work, match employee donations to nonprofits, or give your employees paid time off to volunteer. Read this article for more ideas.
Show the Value of Your Work
Construction work has the benefit of producing a tangible result—“We built that”—so this won’t be as hard as you think.
Give Them Ownership
Put them in charge of a project—no matter how small—and multiply the return by explaining how their project fits into the larger company goals. If you encourage them to come up with creative solutions and question the status quo, you might be surprised by the results.
JE DUNN CONSTRUCTION donates over 10% of its pre-tax earnings to charity, and the majority of its employees spend time volunteering.
While building a biotech drug-manufacturing facility, DPR CONSTRUCTION invited a cancer patient to talk to employees about the importance of their work.
PINNACLE DEVELOPMENT GROUP‘s Star Performance Model—which asks employees to take ongoing responsibility for making sure a task is completed—is a good place to start.
2. They Are Worried About Safety
More than any other generation, Millennials rank safety as a stress factor in the workplace. They’ve grown up in a world filled with violence—remember, today’s 23-year-olds were only 9 or 10 on 9/11, and even younger when the Columbine shootings happened. And, thanks to their often-overprotective parents, childproofing, bike helmets, and V-chips were all part of their daily lives.
This commitment to safety will ultimately make your job as an employer easier, so make sure you encourage it and use it to your advantage. Reward accident-free milestones, praise adherence to standards, and ask for feedback and innovation.
Create a Structured Program
You should already have a formal safety training program in place, but if you don’t, here’s a(nother) good reason. Millennials expect the authorities in their lives (parents, school administrators, and now you) to look out for their safety. This is just another reason to celebrate, though: Unlike Gen-Xers, who are rebels at heart, Millennials will follow the rules you put in place—and, in fact, need them.
Put the details of your safety program on your website, talk about it on social media, have information ready to hand potential employees, and always be prepared to answer questions openly and in detail.
Employees at DBM CONTRACTORS are rewarded for adherence, suggestions, ideas, and prompt reporting of concerns.
CLEVELAND CONSTRUCTION has a comprehensive safety program that covers not only its own employees, but also its subs’ workers.
Follow KINSLEY CONSTRUCTION’s example for sharing a safety program online.
3. They Want to Be Seen as Equals
For Millennials, respect doesn’t automatically come with age, experience, or job title; it has to be earned. They want to work for a company that listens to everybody’s point of view, and they aren’t afraid to share theirs.
Put Decisions in Context
Don’t just tell them the end result; tell them the factors and thinking that went into it and how it fits into the big picture. In other words, show your work. Bonus: Give them a seat at the table and get their input on the decision before it’s made.
Start a Mentorship Program
Experienced employees can help Millennials navigate the pitfalls and politics of their new workplace. But make sure the relationship is a two-way street. Millennials believe they have something to teach veteran workers—and they’re probably right, especially when it comes to technology.
Set Up a 360-Degree Review Program
In addition to asking managers to give feedback to their employees, ask everyone to give feedback to their managers, their peers, and even themselves.
Follow DPR CONSTRUCTION’s motto, “What’s right, not who’s right,” and listen to every employee regardless of their position.
THOMAS CONSTRUCTION is having success with its “old guy/new guy” mentorship program.
Incorporating a 360-degree feedback has given J.H. FINDORFF & SON a competitive advantage when hiring younger employees, and they even use the results to develop training opportunities.
4. They Are Lost Without Technology
Over half of Millennials would rather lose their sense of smell than their technology. Do I need to say anything else?
Have an Online Presence
Millennials want to learn about your company from your website and stay connected through social media (Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, in that order), so make sure you have both. Don’t panic—you can make a quick, cheap website with a tool like Weebly or Squarespace and to engage on social media, all you need is a smartphone and 15 minutes a day.
Relax Your Rules
Another statistic that speaks volumes: 56% of Millennials wouldn’t accept a job from a company that bans social media. Instead, encourage them to use it to promote your company. If you’re small enough, maybe you can solve two problems by enlisting a younger employee to run your social media.
Embrace Construction Tech
Take advantage of Millennials’ innate technological savvy by tasking them with keeping on top of new advances and trends and finding the right ones for your company.
HUNZINGER CONSTRUCTION, which won the Construction Marketing Association’s 2014 Superstar Award, has a website to strive for. If you’re looking for smaller scale, try AMARON CONSTRUCTION’s site, which was built using Squarespace.
BARTLETT COCKE requires all of its subcontractors to use iPads on the job so they can access building plans from the cloud.
5. They Need to Keep Learning
Millennials are the best-educated generation so far, which is partly why the construction industry is having trouble recruiting them—many see jobs that don’t require a college degree as beneath them. Overcome that hurdle by making ongoing education and training a priority.
Attract #Millennials to #construction by making education and training a priority. Click To Tweet
Provide Free Learning Opportunities
Take any chance you can to help your employees learn something new. If you’re a larger employer, you could start a tuition assistance program; if you’re smaller, think about allowing employees to adjust their schedules so they can take classes. Ultimately, you’ll benefit because a highly skilled team will help you stand out from your competitors.
Offer “Soft Skills” Training
As with all generations, Millennials starting their first job have a learning curve. Teaching them soft skills such as time management, public speaking, and customer service will help them and your company succeed.
Don’t Let Them Get Bored
Consider setting up a formal or informal cross-training program to allow employees to learn different skills—and even trades—within your business. This is counterintuitive in an industry that values specialization, but Millennials are multitasking pros and are primed to become experts in more than one area.
SUNDT’s Talent Development Program is evidence of their belief that talented and engaged employees are essential to success.
HUNTER CONTRACTING offers training in Accountability, Integrity/Ethics, and more.
ZACHRY CONSTRUCTION’s internal training program lets employees learn about industry best practices and receive training in different skill areas.
Finally, I can’t finish this post without calling out four companies who are extremely successful at managing Millennials in the commercial construction industry…so successful, in fact, that they made the 2015 list of the 100 Best Places to Work for Millennials (a list that also includes Google, Twitter, and Yelp!). Click the links to learn what they’re doing that landed them in such good company.
What Do You Think About Managing Millennials in Construction?
Do you have any experience managing or recruiting Millennials? Or are you a Millennial yourself? Leave me a comment and tell me if I got it right or am off the mark. And let me know what your job is too.
Additional Sources Consulted
- “11 Tips for Managing Millennials,” About Money
- “My generation: how millennials will impact construction,” Atlanta Business Chronicle
- “Characteristics of Millennials in the Workplace,” Business Know-How
- “Safety First,” Coaching Millennials Blog
- “Gen Y: The New Face of Construction,” Durability + Design
- “Three Ways Builders Can Attract Millennials to Combat Labor Crisis,” Egnyte
- “Will recruiting Millennials to the construction and manufacturing industries prove impossible?,” Equipment World
- “Want to Motivate Your Millennial Employees? Focus on These 4 Areas,” Inc.
- “The Millennials: A new generation of employees, a new set of engagement policies,” Ivey Business Journal
- “Millennials rank personal safety as top workplace issue,” Knowledge at Work
- “Key Workplace Characteristics of Millennials,” Love to Know HR Matters
- “Integrating the Millennial Workforce,” Northern Concrete Construction