Chuck Petersheim is the founder of contracting firm Catskill Farms in Sullivan County, New York. Opinions are the author's own.
Lumber prices have gone through the roof and back down again. Appliances are hard to find. Hot water heaters, electrical conduits and PVC are scarce. Labor is non-existent.
Just about everything we need as builders is a disrupted mess because of COVID-19, but little did I know that pandemic-related problem-solving would be the least of my worries from this crisis.
The “Black Swan” problem I did not anticipate: Those employed in construction-related fields have one of the lowest group vaccination rates nationwide. Smart people. Sophisticated people. Caring people. All unvaccinated.
Builders by nature are doers, and this is a clear call to action. Builders influence — that’s what we do, across a broad range of professions and trades. Encouraging our unvaccinated team members to get the shots aligns with our diverse communications strengths.
Every day, builders seamlessly communicate across socio-economic worlds. We speak as easily with architects and engineers holding Ph.D.s, and surveyors and clients with bachelor's degrees as we do with the blue-collar workforce of painters, framers, masons and plumbers.
I work with smart men and women, old and young, with varying degrees of education. Why does this vaccine hesitancy run through them all at a higher rate than other industries?
They are, at their core, a hardy, headstrong, self-sufficient group. But as valuable as those traits are in performing their jobs, they also can be an obstacle to safe behavior among workers who routinely interact with more people than those in many other professions.
Across the country, construction industry employees leave their homes daily and travel substantial distances, carpooling and ride-sharing. They stop at delis, lumber stores and home goods stores. They enter the offices of clients and customers. Many of these workers are likely to be unvaccinated — and likely ignore crucial health and safety advice.
Construction managers and executives are responsible for more than securing certificates of occupancy and laying foundations. We are uniquely suited to serve as influencers when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. We can — and must — smartly, consistently and directly influence our employee and subcontractor network by promoting the benefits of those shots in the arm.
Builders have deep credibility and experience influencing their teams. I do it all the time and I deeply care for my teams. I help employees with basic dental and healthcare visits. I support their financial literacy efforts with 401k contribution education and personal debt management. I encourage regular attendance and coach safety in the workplace. I offer counsel regarding family issues and challenges. The advantages of vaccinations should be part of that regimen.
While every building company is unique, all share the same hierarchical structure, and all successful firms benefit from strong leadership at the top. As leaders, we know how to motivate with time off, bonuses and recognition. We know how to influence with smart communications strategies.
This vaccination effort must happen before their hesitancy impacts our operations, profitability and hard-earned reputations. Builders always serve their communities — we build Little League dugouts and are the first to volunteer. Simply put, this is just another way for us to serve and protect our community.