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Posted by Jim Fearon, Hays Canada Vice President, on Friday, Mar 24, 2017
A recent Hays survey from the US showed a serious skills and labour shortage of millennials (aged under 35) in the construction industry.
Are the same trends affecting Canada, and if so what does that mean for employers and professionals? I asked three of our construction consultants, who have a combined experience of more than 30 years, about what they’ve seen change in the industry – and what you can do to overcome the challenges.
1. Young people don’t see construction as a good career option
The consensus is that construction is facing more competition from other industries like IT and real estate that are getting more media attention and are seen as “hot” industries.
“Over the last few years, upcoming generations have not been working towards joining the construction industry at all. In my opinion, some of this can be linked to media focus towards other booming markets such as IT,” says Ottawa construction and property team lead Lisa West. “Compared to that, the construction industry does not get much attention if any, and the information about joining and working in this industry can often be inaccurate.”
Many young people don’t know what types of roles are available in construction, and there are a lot of misconceptions about the kind of work that construction professionals are doing, says Mississauga construction and property division manager Bob Bracalenti.
“They think that construction is either all roles requiring advanced degrees, such as engineering or architecture, or that it’s just trades roles. Realistically the majority of roles fall somewhere in between those two extremes,” he says.
These Millennial/Gen Y candidates also often have different priorities to Baby Boomers and Gen X professionals who have previously made up the bulk of the construction workforce.
“Gen Y candidates often have completely different values or motivations to their baby boomer employers,” Vancouver construction senior manager Russell Carnley says. “Things such as flexible working hours, flexibility to work from home, regular and structured career feedback and target setting are all often considerations that play into the decision-making process for many Gen Y candidates, and these aren’t aspects that the construction industry is known for.”
2. Construction employers are not adapting quickly enough to new expectations
“Don’t assume that doing the same things you always have will attract quality candidates,” says Russell. “Employers that are nimble and adapt to changes in the hiring and employment landscape will have the most success. Be creative and think what you could implement that might make you stand out from the crowd other than raising salaries or giving people company vehicles.”
For example, we have clients that offer in-office fitness classes during lunchbreaks, have games consoles in their lunch rooms, or who offer summer hours, allowing staff to finish at midday on Fridays for the summer months.
There is also a lack of information available for young people, and as a construction professional or employer you can help address that immediately by connecting with local schools and educators.
“Information and examples are a great starting point for young people,” Lisa says. “The employers who have had the greatest success in attracting candidates are those that have proactively engaged with organizations that can connect them with the right people.”
For example, building relationships with universities, colleges and trade schools, as well as local associations, can help you find the people you need. Despite concerns about “job hopping” millennials, we do see that candidates who are given an opportunity straight out of school, and who receive on-the-job training, tend to have a stronger retention rate and loyalty to an engaged employer.
Finally, there needs to be an industry-wide effort to improve recognition of construction as a great career choice.
“Every other industry goes out of their way to ‘sell’ opportunities, but construction hasn’t really embraced that. A lot of the businesses are still family run and don’t take a real big picture approach,” Bob says.
3. Junior candidates are treating their careers like a race to the top
“Some candidates want to rush to a particular position or level, but you want to build a career,” Bob says. “Be strategic about getting the role and experience that will progress you to the next spot on your progression plan. Don’t focus on salary or job title, focus on the work you’re doing and where that will get you next.”
Education and certification is important, but this is a practical industry – nothing trumps experience. Employers see a big difference between having been taught how to do something versus having done it.
“If you can demonstrate your skill through actions it is a big selling point,” Lisa says. “Experience, in any shape or form, is important, which means sometimes taking on projects and jobs that aren’t exactly what you want, but that will give you the experience and exposure you need to grow and climb towards your dream position and employer.”
Construction remains one of Canada’s biggest, and most stable, industries, with lots of opportunities for ambitious professionals. When employers and job seekers align on their values and approach, the results prove it’s worth it to put in that time and effort. Want to know what it looks like when it works? Read our interview with Martin van Balen, Senior Estimator, Graham Group.
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