The great Cal Ripken Jr., the “The Iron Man,” began playing baseball as a teen at Aberdeen High School, in Aberdeen, Md., and was drafted into the Baltimore Orioles farm system upon graduation in 1978. He contemplated college before heading to the minor leagues, but after seeking the advice of his father, Cal Ripken Sr., he decided that if baseball didn’t work out as a professional career, he would eventually enroll in college as a seasoned adult.

As parents and leaders, there’s a perceived opportunity cost for our children facing the “real world” after high school instead of attending college. However, the other alternative may also hold true. Certain graduates may not be ready to excel at the rigidities and self-discipline that a two- or four-year university requires. High schoolers who are not poised to succeed at college assume an opportunity cost of lost-work-experience-years while away at college and consequently, may walk away with looming student loans.

Trade organizations and classes are brilliant, alternative gateways to a career path for graduates who are passionate about embracing a practical skill. Vocational schools structure educational programs to foster a developing skillset for in-demand careers. The result it often blooms are financially independent and confident adults with well-paying, rewarding careers. 

Not all jobs in the roofing industry command a college degree. Many are successful and are enthusiastic about hands-on skills as opposed to a traditional office setting. Subsequently, the roofing industry is consistently famished when attempting to fill job openings for crane operators, roof installers/repairers, crew supervisors, warehouse representatives, sheet metal workers, and specialty skills like roof framing.

Connecting our high schoolers with local organizations like the National Roofing Contractors Association or other regional associations could set our children on an inspirational career path with tools to enter the roofing industry with a sustainable skill set and a solid foundation. 

How to Get Started?

It’s important for those responsible for talent management in an organization to develop local relationships with construction educational foundations, high schools and vocational schools. The Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) developed a K-12 pipeline that works with public schools and more than 150 skilled trade construction and metals programs. Each year, CEFGA holds a career expo to connect the more than 17,000 enrolled participants with employers in the construction industry. Roofing employers continue to remain underrepresented at organizations like CEFGA.

How Do I Attract Talent?

Start with a one- or two-page summary or brochure about the company to hand out at career expos while engaging with prospects. Begin by allowing the brochure to tell the story of how the company was founded or has grown through the years. Add an attractive attribute or reward that separates the company from competitors (benefits, time-off, flexible work schedule, diversity or company social gatherings). Showcase an emphasis on safety, OSHA compliance, and core values like integrity to ensure that the tool is attracting candidates that are a healthy extension of the company. Lastly, and most importantly, the brochure should articulate potential career progression through career development opportunities and additional on-the-job training. This enables prospects to see the building blocks of career advancement with the company.

You’re Hired! Now What?

Once the right talent is identified and the employee has assimilated positively into the organization, put on a human resources hat or engage an HR professional to lead the design of next steps in their career development. Organizational development leaders can assist by identifying paths and training opportunities that align with the direction and future talent needs of the company. 

Next, assume the role of an advisor and coach by identifying needed skills for advancement and creating an honest, comfortable dialogue with the employee about filling those gaps before advancement eligibility. Circle back with the local construction/educational foundations to select additional training programs to complement skill attainment. Human resources professionals will often offer to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) template that includes the agreed upon career goals beneficial to both the company and the employee’s advancement, highlight skill strengths and developmental goals, define training needed to fill the skill gaps and review the outcomes of completed training on a regular basis. This human capital investment partnership, when embraced by employer and employee, creates a competitive edge through loyalty, positive morale and long-term company commitment.

Voilà, the organizational farm system has begun to take shape! Whether the company is priming a roof repair employee who wants to lead the crew or a commercial driver that has sights set on operating a crane, an IDP can guide the development of each employee in the farm system and serves a purpose with any position where one desires career development and advancement.

There are many low-cost solutions to identifying and growing talent with quality, speed and transparency. Connecting with local educational foundations is usually free, fosters excellent networking opportunities, and provides reasonable fees for career expo participation. Utilize free social media websites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to create a company web page or post about a job opening with use of hashtags like #helpwanted, #craneoperator, or #roofer to foster publicity and connect the organization with a vast and untapped talent pool.

Social media has a fantastic ability to attract candidates and increase the number of high-quality, diverse prospects. Furthermore, millennials and future generations will likely only use web-based networking tools and social media to perform their job search, therefore embracing social media is inevitable.

Articulating a fruitful career path is essential to retaining high-potential employees. Developing a consistent rhythm with conversations about future opportunities is important to retaining the most valuable employees. Currently, many of our best and brightest employees aren’t having those conversations during the hiring process or during their annual performance review. Adopting an IDP practice at the organization will likely provide a competitive edge for talent acquisition and growth. Larger organizations may have the opportunity to integrate IDPs, training and performance feedback through an LMS (Learning Management System) software solution.

The Long Haul

Cal Ripken Jr. reached the major leagues as a third baseman three years after entering the minors, and reached the Baseball Hall of Fame after playing with the Orioles for the next 21 consecutive seasons. He has a storied career, but he’ll be most remembered — and revered —  for playing in 2,632 consecutive ballgames, shattering the great Lou Gehrig’s record for excellence and consistency that many thought would never be broken after it stood for 56 years.

Every organization’s human capital dream is to find, develop and reap the contributory benefits of their very own Cal Ripken Jr(s). The growth, versatility and institutional knowledge of someone like Cal playing for the team holds intrinsic value and historic knowledge deemed by most organizations as financially difficult to quantify and thereby, likely priceless. Now, go get them!