WASHINGTON, D.C. — To address the acute and persistent talent shortage in residential construction, employers in the industry should prioritize employee engagement to retain the people they already have. That was the central conclusion of the 2021 Homebuilding Workforce Engagement Study, which was released this week by the Building Talent Foundation (BTF).

Sponsored by the Leading Builders of America, and led by the expert team at Oxford Center for Employee Engagement (OCEE), the study was conducted with the goal of understanding the engagement of frontline workers in the homebuilding industry, the factors that affect it, and the role it plays in employee retention. 

“BTF's strategy is to bring a pipeline of new talented tradespeople into homebuilding, connect them to growth-oriented employers, and retain them in the sector for years to come,” said Branka Minic, CEO of BTF. “By conducting this study, we aimed to establish a clear retention baseline, and understand what it would take to improve it.”

Employee turnover is also expensive to employers, with costs as high as $15,000 per employee for expenses relating to separation, replacement, training, and lost productivity. Considering that it’s concentrated among early- or mid-career employees, turnover is also a long-term problem, potentially widening the skills gap in the homebuilding industry.

The study found that employee engagement was one of the keys to employers being able to keep their people. The top reasons people identified for leaving their jobs, the survey found, had to do with opportunities for career advancement and skill development, as well as the effectiveness of their immediate supervisors.

Those engagement metrics even outweighed compensation, although pay and benefits were still important.

“This shows that prioritizing engagement, and providing upskilling, career pathways, and well-trained supervisors, will help companies keep good people,” Minic said. “Engaged employees are also more productive, dedicated, and happier. Put simply, companies with an engaged workforce are more successful.”

What Employers Can Do

As a result of this survey, BTF is actively developing several initiatives aimed at helping employers improve employee engagement. These initiatives include raising awareness of this study’s results, providing greater access to training resources, facilitating best practice sharing and peer-to-peer learning, and offering career coaching.

In the immediate term, employers can take steps to improve their employee engagement. These include allowing and encouraging employees to pursue professional and skill development, fostering supportive, team-centric work environments, and training supervisors in effective leadership. A variety of resources and training modules are available online at low or even no cost.

The Time to Invest is Now

Focusing on employee engagement will benefit employers in the short term and will help the industry as a whole in the long term. As more people are happy and growing in their careers, the building industry will gradually develop a reputation for offering rewarding, viable careers, which will in turn help recruitment of new talent into the sector.

“The time to invest in engagement is now,” Minic said. “Our industry is already investing heavily in recruiting and training new talent, and those efforts will be twice as effective once the sector is better at engaging and retaining its workers.”

The 2021 Homebuilding Workforce Engagement Study was sponsored by the Leading Builders of America and supported by the Home Builders Institute, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, and many other organizations. To see the results of the study, download the full report here.