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How to attract and retain workers in a seller's market


Retiring Baby Boomers and the competition for skilled workers of any age mean employers need to use new strategies to transfer institutional knowledge and maintain a thriving workforce.

Construction companies in New England have an increasing number of projects to keep them busy, but face a shortage of skilled workers who can take on the work. As a result, a lot of new development is on hold. And it’s not just New England. By 2020, it is estimated there will be a global shortfall of 85 million high-skilled workers.

A national survey released by The Associated General Contractors of America reveals that this is a larger problem, as two-thirds of contractors are having a hard time finding qualified workers to keep up with construction demand. And while firms are changing their workplace policies to increase pay and efficiency, it is still difficult to find enough people with the right skills to fill critical roles. Add to that the number of Baby Boomers leaving the workplace—and taking their institutional knowledge with them—and you have a situation that can directly affect how, and if, a company grows and succeeds.

Attracting and retaining a new generation of talented and skilled workers continues to be a struggle for companies across the country, not just in construction. Millennials—soon to be more than half of all workers—are a new breed; they tend to stay in jobs for approximately three years, making long-term knowledge transfer to them a challenge. At the same time, a large portion of Baby Boomers are looking to retire or reduce their workload.

How do you attract and maintain an effective workforce as the workers themselves come and go?

Business owners and executives have options and can do a better job of both holding onto aging professionals, and hiring younger ones. There are a lot of stereotypes describing millennials (and baby boomers for that matter). Look beyond them. Consider some of the ways to address finding and keeping the skills and knowledge your workforce needs:

  • Focus on shared knowledge across the organization (your business leaders can do a knowledge and skills inventory); make knowledge sharing easy with cloud software tools and accessible technology; understand that “transferring” knowledge to other workers may be seen as a threat to people who have that knowledge.
  • Create and formalize opportunities to transfer knowledge. Make sure that you have a succession plan in place for senior leadership. Will employees looking to retire want to cut back to part-time before they do so? Can they stay with you a bit longer to train and mentor younger team members and share their knowledge? Not only is their knowledge valuable, they may also feel inspired to teach a new generation, and your company can save money in training costs.
  • Rethink processes. What technologies are available to help take some of those duties and automate or streamline them? Making your employees more comfortable shifting to different approaches will encourage buy-in, boost morale, and make cultural change less threatening. 
  • Make your workplace more appealing for current and potential employees: look to industry leaders and larger, bellwether companies to address vacation policy, community service, fringe benefits like lunches, social activities, wellness programs and other incentives. Many have added sabbaticals to reward employees for 10 or more years or service.

Beyond focusing on retention strategies, when is the last time you looked at how, when and where you recruit new employees? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Amp up your recruiting strategies. Think about what you want to offer candidates to walk through the door. Think about how you write your job descriptions, the words you choose, the salary being offered as compared to the role. Think about where you are going to find new employees, what job boards you are using, what your process is for onboarding. Have you tried social media? Find out where the millennials are looking and active online, and meet them there.

    All of these elements are critical in being an attractive workplace, especially if you are seeking younger workers. Millennials and/or Generation Y’ers want to know their work is going to make a difference. They want work/life balance along with perks like a gym membership discount, plenty of days off, and the ability to work remotely when needed. They also want to be mentored and learn. Are you able to provide those things? If not, how do you plan to make your company an enticing place for young people to work?
  2. Think remotely. More employees want to work from home and on their own schedule. It’s not just millennials who want flexibility. It’s becoming an intergenerational issue. Are you set up for your employees to work remotely? According to a TINYPulse survey, “What Leaders Need to Know about Remote Workers,” 91 percent of remote workers say they are more productive when working out of the office. 
  1. Cultivate diversity. Encouraging difference and recognizing diversity doesn’t just mean hiring workers with different ethnic backgrounds (though that will certainly help in creating a high-performing and culturally enhanced work environment). It means making room for a variety of different work styles and preferences, and being more flexible. For example, if you have a 59-year-old manager who loves her job, but wants to work a compressed work week or go part-time, will you be able to accommodate her? Often changing an individual’s work configuration can re-energize their commitment to the job. Or, if a millennial was about to say yes to your job offer but wanted to work remotely one day a week, would you be able to accommodate her? Your ability to be flexible and nimble is important.
  1. Hire outside your scope. It’s time to look beyond the approaches you typically take and widen your net. You can do this in many ways, but here are two to help you get started:
  • Look to social media to find qualified candidates. Did you know that the use of social media for recruitment has grown 54 percent in the past five years? According to a recent Society for Human Resource Management study, 84 percent of organizations are now recruiting on social platforms. On the flip side, 79 percent of job seekers use social channels in their job search, according to Glassdoor, with one in five applying for a job they learned about through social. New mobile applications are making finding qualified candidates easiereven those who are passive in their job search. Twitter has become an important tool for many hiring managers, as well as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and other tools. Start experimenting.
  • Don’t overlook hidden populations. According to the Maine’s Labor Shortage report, new immigrants and their children are expected to account for 83 percent of the growth in the U.S. workforce from 2000 to 2050. Many immigrants come with degrees in technology, engineering, science and math. Many have business experience. Don’t let cultural differences be the reason why you don’t hire someone. Be creative and get your staffing needs met.

Our workforce is changing and it’s time to take a long hard look at how to best adapt. Embrace the future and the people who will help you get there. There is a lot of opportunity to make positive changes in management, employees, and business models. There will be challenges. There will be victories. There will be questions and yes, some growing pains. Just remember, you’re not alone.