The inability to find good employees is a nationwide epidemic, and in the 37 years I have been a contracting consultant, I have never seen it worse. Contractors are notorious for poor hiring practices. The vast majority of companies only look for people when there is a desperate need and are too quick to take the first warm body that comes along.

Having a quality workforce starts from the ground up. We recommend you start with a sound evaluation of your existing employees. Take a moment and fill out the chart in Figure 1. List your best field employee first and your weakest last.

Making this evaluation is easier when you ask yourself who would be laid off first, second, etc. Next, write down the hourly rate and length of service. Note whether they can drive a company vehicle and if they can communicate well enough to be lead a crew. Then on the far right, grade who is promotable to foreman or lead person.

At a recent meeting, a contractor listed 10 employees, and only two had valid driver’s licenses. Two employees had the ability to lead a crew, but guess what — they were not the same people who could drive. Only by improving the bottom of the organization can a contractor hope to improve the quality of his or her workforce.

Do your hourly pay rates match your value list? If not, you have a problem. Non-union contractors claim to pay merit pay, but in reality most pay according to seniority. This can be a major issue if you have a bright up-and-coming trainee who is on the bottom end of the pay scale. Don’t lose your future to your competition. Many contractors will hire that trainee at junior craftsman pay as they are desperate to find someone. Frankly, this person is probably the best available in the marketplace.

Make sure you are paying enough to attract quality people who can grow within the organization. Ten to 12 bucks per hour does not get much, and using the logic that it’s what everyone else pays won’t solve your personnel issues. You must pay whatever it takes to hire people with a valid driver’s license, communication skills and the ability to move up in the company.

Always recruit for helpers and potential workers. Be ruthless. If the people you have now can’t move up, replace them. Only by drafting the best available talent can you hope to build a winning team.

Recruit work ethic, teach skill. Find people who will show up and work, and teach them the craft. You can teach a worker how to work, but you can’t teach a bum how to work.

Establish an advertising budget. Look for employees the same way you look for jobs. Put information on your website and trucks. Every time you go into a fast food restaurant, see if there is a hardworking person behind the counter you can steal. If need be, mail into blue collar neighborhoods seeking employees. Advertise in churches. Go to high school football coaches and ask for personal recommendations. Every coach has some good kids who are not going to go to college and wants to see them succeed. Recruit, recruit and then recruit some more. Quit complaining and do something about. You can moan and groan all you want, no one is coming to help you.

Would you work for you? Do you offer benefits of any kind? Is there opportunity for advancement? Are the field workers who work for you happy with the work environment? Every employer has an employment reputation in his or her local market. What’s yours?

 Remember, no matter how hard you try, you cannot turn chicken manure into chicken salad. Start with poor employees at the bottom, and you will never have a quality organization. Recruit constantly. Train and make your company a first-class place to work.