I frequently receive questions from customers regarding the difficulty in building a workforce. These questions run the gamut from the crusty 65-year-old contractor complaining about the youth of the day to the fire-eating 24-year-old owner who wants to build a more attractive place for employees to work. No matter how you spin it, building a staff is not an instant proposition. You can rework your finances and see an immediate impact. You might be able to develop a clever marketing plan and find work fairly quickly. But developing people takes time. To make matters worse, unemployment statistics are misleading. Gary Burtless in a December 2012 article for Brookings reported, “Between 2007 and 2011, the fraction of the nation’s unemployed who were unemployed six months or longer increased from 18 percent to 44 percent.” What this means is that there are a lot of people looking for jobs, but many of them are not particularly employable. And the vast majority of the unemployed do not want to work in the field as a tradesperson. So to further study this issue, ask yourself the following six questions and see how you measure up.
1. Would you work for you?
This is a complicated question and we could dedicate the rest of this article to it, but let’s try to keep it short and sweet. This starts with the psychological side of things. Too many contractors start out in the field because they don’t know what else to do and then 15 years later, at age 40, they are doing the same thing. If you don’t believe your industry or your company is a good place to work, it is doubtful you will be able to convince other good people to work for you. Look at the positives of working in a small business. People get to see what their daily accomplishments are and feel good about it. Small business employment is results driven with very little politics.
2. Does your company look like a good place to work?
Is your office and shop clean? Do your trucks and equipment look professional? If you work out of your home and have to meet people at McDonald’s or a supplier’s office for an interview, does your business really look like a good place to work? Don’t build a shop just for hiring people, but understand that the more your business matures and grows, the easier it is to find people. Every business has an employment reputation, and tradespeople talk. They know the good places to work. Don’t hire and train good people and then have a management style that makes it unpleasant to work for you, forcing employees to leave the company.
3. Do you evaluate the big picture?
We talk to contractors weekly about their employees, but many owners fail to take the time to evaluate their employees for the long haul. If you have 10 field guys but only two have a driver’s license, it is going to be impossible to promote the non-drivers to foreman or let them run small jobs by themselves. Write down all your employees’ names in order of importance. Then write their pay beside their name. Grade their willingness to learn and how well they follow company practices covering timeliness, safety and other factors. All of your employees do not have to become stars, but you have to be realistic concerning their long-term potential. No matter how hard you try, you can’t turn chicken manure into chicken salad.
4. Are you always looking for employees?
Contractors are always marketing and looking for work, but few take the same approach with prospective employees. Most wait until someone leaves and a new hire is forced. You have to train your organization to constantly look for employees. Also, what is your advertising approach? How much do you spend advertising for work, and how much do you spend looking for people? It’s probably a very inadequate comparison. Consider putting employment information on your vans and website. Ask everyone you know. Realize that you can’t do work without employees.
5. Do you terminate the bad apples soon enough?
Look to replace employees who have a poor work ethic or other attitude issues. When you get rid of a difficult or problem employee, it can be surprising how quickly others stand up and perform. It is important to enforce company work rules. Think of such enforcement as a way to protect employees, not lose employees. If an employee is violating company policy, document the situation with a formal letter. Dysfunctional employees in a large company tend to perform because strict structure and company policy enforce it. Small businesses play the role of nice guy and pay the price.
6. Are you temporarily frustrated or permanently poisoned?
You are a contractor. You make money by creating things. You need people to do that. People can be very frustrating, but without employees, you are not a contractor. Even if you use subs, they still have to be competent, legal and effective. There is no magic fruit tree where you can gather subs or employees.
If you think your personnel issues are all someone else’s fault, when you look into the mirror tomorrow morning, maybe you should look a little closer at the real problem. Other companies have employees. Why don’t you?