While unemployment is at record highs, our customers constantly complain about the difficulty of finding good employees. It has always been difficult to find goodporter1 people, but you would think the recent recession and construction downturn would make the process easier. So what is driving this shortage?

It’s not just your problem. Retiring baby boomers and technology requirements are placing a strain on the system. A February 2012 article in the Washington Post quoted a Deloitte study for The Manufacturing Institute which showed 600,000 job openings in the manufacturing industry. That same article quoted Boeing as saying that of their 31,000 machinists, 28 percent are over 55 years of age.

Census data and labor studies show that the U.S. population grew less last decade than any decade since the 1930s. What growth that did happen was from minority population increases.

The Council for Economic Education report on December 2011 employment statistics underlines the difficulty in finding qualified workers and the impact education has on the unemployment rate. Unemployment for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher was only 4.1 percent; unemployment for those with a high school diploma was 8.7 percent; but for those with less than a high school education, it was a whopping13.8 percent.

To make matters worse, for many, construction is not a desirable career goal. While construction will gladly take the less educated, finding workers who will pass a drug test and have a dependable work record seems a never ending challenge. Throw in trying to find someone with an insurable driver’s license and the recruiting of employees becomes even more challenging.

Another key factor is all the media hype on unemployment. Many employees may not like the job they have but leaving that job is perceived as risky. For many workers, it is a case of, “The devil I know is safer than the devil I don’t.” Contractors have to realize that dependable workers are not a commodity and cannot be picked up on any street corner. Successful contractors must learn to market their company and the opportunity to work for them. Business as usual just does not cut it. Here are some ways you can increase your success.

1. Pay a minimum wage that attracts the kind of folks you are looking for. What is the minimum wage? The U.S. government may have it categorized at $7.25 an hour. In reality, it’s what you have to pay to attract a stable person with a driver’s license. Research what warehouses and low-skill manufacturing firms pay and look to steal folks who want to earn more by learning a skilled trade. Sometimes paying a little higher at entry level makes a big difference in the type of employee you attract.

2. Hire work ethic and teach skill. Work ethic is an inherent value your parents taught you. Look for people who are willing to work and then teach them a trade. Look for dependability.

3. Constantly hire and constantly look to upgrade your organization. If you have 20 employees, the bottom 20 percent may be weaker than you like. Look to find better people and let the bottom side of your crew go.

4. Hire slowly, fire quickly. Don’t accept someone because you are desperate. If you are going to improve your overall organization, you must stop hiring everyone’s leftovers. Trading drug addicts, alcoholics and the undependable, does no good. No matter how hard you try, you cannot turn chicken feathers into chicken filet. Check all references to ensure that they are true. Consider a trade test or let them work for a day to see how they perform.

5. Establish relationships with coaches and other community leaders who can identify young people with potential. Consider hiring ex-military personnel. Population statistics tell us that your workforce may not be a traditional white male organization. Embrace diversity and recruit accordingly.

6. Be creative. Put signage on your vehicles seeking employees. Advertise on the internet and try different types of ads. Even consider direct mail or newspaper inserts into blue collar neighborhoods. Considering running an ad that appeals to work ethic. “Stuck in a dead end job? Come to work for us and let us teach you a craft. In four years, you could be earning $40,000 a year.”

7. Bring supervisors and foremen into the real world. Make sure they understand that you are finding the best people you can and they need to train them and hold them accountable. Make sure they understand the concept of hiring workers and then teaching them a skill.

8. Consider a 30-day evaluation with new hires. At that time talk with both the new hire and his or her supervisor. If the person shows up each day and is trying to learn, give them a raise. If not, put them on probation and start looking for someone else.

 Finding good people is never easy, but you are contractor, not a material supplier. No employees, no business. As you can see, the recession did not make it as easy as one might have thought. Be proactive, competitive and creative.