When the construction labor market is as tight as it is, contractors often mine any available pool of qualified workers, including that of the already employed.
"It's the most challenging labor market I've seen in 20 years," said R.J. Morris, director of talent acquisition and management at McCarthy Building Cos.
Well-qualified potential candidates aren't likely to be job hunting if they're satisfied where they are, so making meaningful connections with potential candidates who are employed can be difficult. "The best people out there aren't looking for jobs," said Brian Binke, president and CEO of executive recruiting firm The Birmingham Group. "Chances are [their current employers] are taking good care of them."
That's true for skilled trade, field supervisory, office and managerial positions. However, there are ways to draw in quality employees who are underpaid, unfulfilled or want to leave their jobs for some other reason.
Get linked in
Mention online recruiting, and the first thing that comes to mind for many people is one of the prominent employment websites such as Indeed or Monster.com. While posting ads and a company profile can help with name recognition, don't expect a lot of qualified responses, Binke said, especially from those who have jobs.
"The people you're looking for aren't spending their weekends looking at job boards," he said.
Construction employers have a better shot on social networking sites like LinkedIn, Binke said, where they can take part in group pages, join discussions and develop relationships with others in the industry. This can lead to valuable recruiting connections or simply pique the interest of someone who might be considering an employment change.
Developing a presence on social media, posting ads on job boards and including open positions on the company website are all passive techniques, Morris said, that can educate future employees about what companies like McCarthy have to offer.
LinkedIn, Binke said, is also where employers can contact potential candidates directly. "Target every company with a person that might be able to do the job," he said. The individuals that are working for competitors likely have résumés included in their LinkedIn profiles, paving a way for recruiters to pinpoint individuals who would be a good match.
LinkedIn also offers a way to contact individuals privately and present them with a tentative offer while not putting them on the spot or on the defense in the way a phone call or email might.
Rely on referrals
When recruiting, a firm's own happy, satisfied employees might be the secret weapon to finding qualified outside help.
"In today's crazy market," said Hannah Ginley, chief people officer at Boston-area Windover Construction, "we're attracting people by word of mouth." As Windover's brand grew, she said, the company stopped using third-party recruiters and began relying on its reputation as a way to attract talent. Yet the peer network its employees are tapped into, she added, has become invaluable.
"They recognize the sort of work style and values that work well here," she said.
Morris concurred that existing staff members are often effective in spotting qualified candidates. "The best people want to work with the best people," he said, "and the best people usually know the best people."
Morris said that McCarthy employees are such good judges of who will be a good fit for the company that as much as 35% of recruits are referrals. The firm also found that referrals succeed at a higher rate than those brought on through other channels.
In recognition of just how valuable employees are in this process, McCarthy offers up to $6,500 to employees who refer a successful candidate, depending on the position of the new recruit. But the incentive program should be about quality rather than quantity, Morris added.
"It's a really successful tool," he said, and it's a win-win. A new estimator or project manager, for example, gets a good "inside baseball" picture of what life is like at McCarthy, and the person who brought him or her into the fold gets a cash reward and is able to work with someone they trust.
Prepare to pay
While skilled workers are also looking for a company with a good reputation and a chance for advancement, compensation and steady work are more important, said Anthony Sierra, president of commercial and residential construction company JP Sierra in Tampa, Florida.
While the industry is reporting record backlogs, there will always be underperforming companies that don't win enough work to keep their field employees busy. "What hurts construction workers the most," he said, "is a break in pay — a lag between one job and the next." The most attractive employers have a good inventory of upcoming projects.
Contractors also need to be competitive when it comes to paying skilled trade workers. Sometimes, Sierra said, this means being willing to realize smaller profit margins in order to give those employees raises.
If companies can't keep their workers busy and increase pay when needed, he said, it's easy for other contractors to "pirate" their employees. "If you see someone who's a [high performer]," Sierra said, "the first time you hear he's disgruntled, you have to be on him."
For some, wages are not the most important factor in deciding whether to take another job. "I talk to a lot of overpaid, miserable people," Binke said.
For many, the culture comes first, and those candidates might give up a few dollars to work for a company where they feel they fit in and have a chance to grow.
"Money is money," Ginley said, "and great benefits are important. We never dismiss that, and we try to remain competitive. But I really think people are looking for an opportunity … to be as empowered as possible."
So how do in-house recruiters respond to accusations that what they do constitutes poaching? "We don't do anything underhanded or shady, but our job is to present to people what it's like to work at McCarthy and what opportunities we might have," Morris said. "Our goal is to constantly network with great talent."