The U.S.’s historically low unemployment rate has elevated the importance of employee recruitment and retention for construction companies across the country. Human resources experts are relying on a range of best practices to entice the brightest and best workers to consider careers in the industry.
Women make up 50% of the U.S. labor force but less than 10% of the construction workforce and savvy construction leaders are using a range of ideas to attract more of them to their companies.
Research has shown that organizations that leverage the innovation of a diverse workforce have improved financial performance. A study from Intel and Dalberg Global Development Advisors, for example, found a link between diversity and higher revenues, profits and market value.
According to hiring experts, women are looking for the same things as their male counterparts, such as a good salary, flexible benefits and professional growth, but there are a number of things employers can do to better get their attention. Here are eight ideas:
Create an inclusive job listing. The job description is often a candidate’s first experience with a company so spend time crafting it carefully, according to Wendy Zang, senior managing consultant at AEC executive recruiting firm Helbling & Associates. She recommends using gender-neutral pronouns and being selective about the language so as not to unintentionally turn off candidates.
The job listing should emphasize the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, LinkedIn says, and call out inclusive benefits like parental leave and child care subsidies.
Reach out. Studies have shown that women often don’t apply to positions because they feel they aren’t qualified enough. In an often-cited analysis, women working at Hewlett Packard applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100% of the qualifications listed for the job. Men applied when they thought they could meet 60% of the job requirements.
“Men look at a list of requirements and think ‘I can do most of these things’ or ‘I have the potential to be able to do this even though I haven’t done it before,’” Zang said. “Women look at a job description as if they have to prove that they’ve done all of it before.”
This means that companies and recruiters have to be proactive in recruitment efforts, the recruiter said.
“Identify potential candidates and encourage them to apply,” she said. “In doing so, we can bring female candidates into a recruitment process who may not have been found or attracted by traditional recruitment methods.”
Look for untapped potential. Hiring managers say it’s important to remember that when it comes to hiring for construction jobs, there’s more to look for than technical knowhow. Heidi Burkett, senior HR business partner at Skanska, said that her team also looks for people with strong leadership and interpersonal skills.
She recalled a University of North Carolina graduate who had majored in Spanish who interned with Skanska doing administrative work and “getting her feet wet understanding what we do a business,” she said. Now, a few years later, the woman works full time as a Skanska project manager, a role that she had not envisioned for herself while in college.
“It took some work on her part to learn the technical component of what we do and on our part to train her, but she’s been very successful,” Burkett said.
In addition, Skanska has a rotation program that allows employees to sample careers in different aspects of the company from preconstruction to business development to health and safety.
“Some people in this business know that they want to be a superintendent or to be on the project management track,” she said. “Other people don’t know what they don’t know so this helps expose them to all aspects of the company.”
Include women in the hiring process. It’s crucial to have at least some of the company representatives handling recruiting and conducting interviews are women, Zang said. This will make it easier for female candidates to visualize themselves at the firm. Burkett said that she always brings both male and female project team members with them to college recruiting fairs so that students can ask questions about what it’s really like to work for a global construction firm.
Without these role models front and center, women candidates can feel unwelcome, Zang said.
“When you don’t have the opportunity to see and have that interaction with other women at the company a lot of times it’s hard to really get a full sense of what the culture is like for women,” she said.
Provide networking and support. Companies that want a diverse workforce have to make it a priority at all levels, not just talk about it in their hiring process, Zang said. In-house groups for women like Skanska’s Women’s Network or sponsorship of women’s events like Professional Women in Construction conferences show that a company is serious about gender diversity.
For instance, Zang said, at the Construction Institute Summit last month, many contractors sent large groups of women and made sure they had the opportunity to take time off work to be there.
“Only if an organization can show those values in both tangible and intangible ways will they be able to secure and retain high-performing female employees at any level,” she said.
An apprenticeship program is a good way to help attract women to trade work, said Brad Bailey, vice president of communications and external affairs at S & B Engineers & Constructors in Houston. The company's 16-week-long Women's Apprenticeship Program hosted in partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission provides a combination of classroom instruction, hands-on skills training and on-the-job experience.
Women in the program are exposed not only to specialized craft training, but also soft skills and networking training through partnerships with organization like the United Way, he said. At the completion of the program, participants are offered full-time employment on an S & B project.
Offer challenging roles and opportunities for growth. Zang said that in her experience, women stay with companies when they are given the same opportunities as their male colleagues and encouraged to take part in new opportunities. In short, she said, construction and engineering employers can entice women as employees and keep them happy if they treat them as equals.
“That means equal in pay, benefits, types of work, opportunities, and in the day-to-day treatment of women,” she said. “Keeping employees happy whether they are men or women requires inclusion and development as professionals.”
Professional development for women and men is a top priority at S & B, according to Bailey. He agrees that one of the best ways to retain employees is by creating opportunities and pathways for advancement.
"Beyond our apprenticeship program, all S & B employees have the opportunity to participate in free skills upgrade training to expand their knowledge and abilities," he said. "This enables them to earn certifications that lead to career progression and advancement."
Assemble great teams. One of the biggest factors leading to job satisfaction is being part of a team that works well together and this is especially true for women, according to the LinkedIn study. Savvy companies create teams carefully and with employees that make up a range of diverse skills, personality types and backgrounds.
Skanska’s HR staff utilizes a management system by Professional DynaMetric Programs (PDP) to help determine personality types and set up teams accordingly. The assessments evaluate employees in the areas of dominance, extroversion, patience and conformity, Burkett said.
“It helps us to evaluate team chemistry and see how we can build a better team by identifying strengths, leadership skills and communication styles,” she said. “It also helps teams understand their dynamics and how they should interact with one another.”
Fight stereotypes. In the end, one of the biggest challenges in attracting women to the industry may be its reputation as a male-dominated field with long, grueling hours on the jobsite and lots of hands-on labor. Many job candidates don’t realize that construction jobs run the gamut from onsite work to accounting, marketing, project management and virtual design and construction.
In addition, many recent college graduates are interested in jobs with a tech angle, but few are aware of the ways that technology is being used in construction. Experts say recruiting managers must work to overcome these long-held views.
Matt Chambers, senior director for corporate project development at Clancy & Theys Construction Co., said that candidates are pleased when they hear about his firm’s use of tech.
“Our use of technology is encouraging younger, more talented candidates — and yes, more women — to consider a career in construction, when they may have previously never given it a second thought,” he said.