The construction industry is in the midst of a war for talent on two fronts. The global labor shortage makes it difficult to match jobs with candidates in the first place, but keeping the talent you’ve already got is an equally pressing matter.
The U.S .job market as a whole could be in for some turbulence as well. According to recent reports, up to 40% of people want to change jobs this year, a phenomenon that has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.”
Taken together, these factors paint a challenging picture of the road ahead for the construction industry. In order to successfully attract and retain talent, some construction companies are transforming themselves into places where people not only want to work but also where they’ll actually want to stick around.
The industry’s collective anxiety around talent has resulted in many construction companies looking inward in ways they never have, including how well their company culture reflects its values. Although culture hasn’t historically been a top priority for C&E firms, that’s slowly changing, and the results often speak for themselves.
“Top Talent Attracts Top Talent”
Kitchell is a diverse real estate development and construction company that does around $650 million in annual revenue across Arizona, Texas, and California in healthcare, higher education, labs, and some Native American communities. Even when many peer companies have begun struggling with their talent pipelines, the company’s internal reporting data shows their attrition rate is under 10%.
How did the company achieve this?
“The biggest thing is, in order to attract top talent, you have to retain top talent. Top talent attracts top talent no matter what sector or industry you’re in, and culture can really drive that,” said Nicole Maas, Kitchell’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications.
Kitchell’s culture was put to the ultimate test in 2020 when Zoom calls replaced in-person water cooler chats and after-work happy hours. And yet, instead of driving people apart, the sudden shift to remote work gave team members a chance to connect in a new and more intimate way.
“Leadership, marketing, communications, field operations, you name it, we got more human. We saw families, we saw spouses, partners, kids, pets, bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, backyards. We saw it all, and I feel like that really drove our culture and made us stronger because we got to connect in this way we wouldn’t have pre-pandemic,” said Maas.
It’s a good reminder of how good culture thrives despite obstacles like social distancing. Nurturing those connections helps coworkers feel like part of a team instead of a loose collective who share the same space for eight hours a day.
Before the pandemic, Kitchell participated in Procore’s Culture Academy, a two-and-a-half-day immersive culture and leadership event that unites like-minded construction executives committed to cultivating a healthy workplace culture before the pandemic. Kitchell developed its vision, mission, and values, which somewhat presciently, coalesced around “Reimagining the Building Experience.”
“What a great time to be reimagining the building experience when labor, materials, and supply chain management is forcing us to do that. Hey, we’re already there, right? What we were doing in 2019 is not going to work in 2021 and beyond, so we’ve really embraced that internally and I feel like it’s a great time to be driving that culture,” Maas said.
Learn to Recognize and Overcome Unconscious Bias
We all have unconscious biases that govern our actions and ways of thinking, and hiring managers are no different. However, they may unconsciously limit their talent options when they fail to look outside of their preconceived notions when evaluating candidates.
DPI Construction is a construction management firm focused on the Toronto market that prides itself on its inclusive workforce and diverse culture, hiring people from all corners of the globe. DPI’s project teams are made up of at least 85% women and underrepresented groups. By approaching their hiring through this lens, DPI gave itself the advantage of fielding candidates from a much larger talent pool than if they had taken a more narrow approach that has historically excluded swaths of the working population.
The company was recently hiring for a project coordinator role. They received numerous talented applicants for the position, including a woman named Ella, a Rwandan immigrant with an undergraduate degree in design and a master’s in construction management. A hiring manager blinded by their unconscious bias might have felt she didn’t check all of the traditional boxes of a candidate for a construction project coordinator role, but DPI knew better, so it offered her the job.
“If you’re not looking at all possible candidates for a role and if you’re taking a very narrow view which people have historically taken, you might not have come across an Ella. She’s an amazing part of the team already, and she’s really excited to be a part of what we’re doing,” said Carolyn Brown, DPI’s Manager of Operations.
This “widening of the funnel” when it comes to finding talent enabled DPI to find the perfect candidate for the role.
“If you open your eyes and look, you get candidates like Ella, who sounds like an amazing talent, because you’re not looking for the same template of somebody who traditionally ‘looks like’ a project manager or superintendent, for example,” said Steve Zahm, Procore’s Head of Culture.
You’re getting this amazing level of experience and talent and you’re not sacrificing or trying to say, ‘Well, we have to look for someone who’s female.’ People from more traditional male-dominated roles in construction, for example, might come to this saying, ‘Oh, I have to widen and start lowering the bar.’ In fact, it sounds like you’ve raised the bar when it comes to that talent search.”
Making Inclusivity a Business Imperative
Being inclusive in your hiring isn’t just the right thing to do; it can directly impact the overall health of an organization.
LaNelle Alexander is Inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at L+M Development Partners Inc., a vertically integrated real estate company whose platform includes development, construction, and property management. Over her career, she’s seen first-hand how the power of diversity can transform an organization for the better.
Before her current role, Alexander served in an executive leadership position at global nonprofit buildOn, whose mandate was to help break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy through service and education.
Alexander developed buildOn’s very first DE&I strategic plan, which became central to how the company attracted and cultivated its talent. During her tenure, buildOn’s attrition rate dropped from 45% to 22%.
At L+M, Alexander and her team established some tools to attract top talent. They also devised a three-year strategic plan for how the company could become more inclusive.
“It was bottom-up, ground roots, not only a top-down approach. It made sure everyone was informed and had a voice,” explained Alexander.
Of huge importance was getting the company’s top executives’ unwavering support for their initiatives.
“We also had the commitment from the executive leadership team. You can’t get really far without your team on the top, the CEO and everyone else really being included and just being our champions.”
One of Alexander’s goals at L+M was to ensure everyone at the company felt they had a voice, which they accomplished through an ambassador program that gave all staff members access to senior leadership. She also stressed the importance of taking an intentional and deliberate approach to defining their values.
“At buildOn, we had the language, and the mission and core values were compelling, however, the issue we needed to develop was how do we live and model these values. How do we ensure that the mission and value is authentic and that people really know how to model these behaviors?”
Alexander helped L+M achieve this through creation of their core values recognition program, holding annual team-wide conferences for learning and development, but also to celebrate their mission as a company. She further advanced these values within the company by shaping recruitment around them, providing interview scripts, space, and opportunities for diverse perspectives.
Most recently, Alexander spearheaded the establishment of L+M’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategic plan, featuring employee resource groups and a DE&I council, which is currently working with Procore and L+M’s executive team to firmly establish their mission, vision, and values company-wide.
Fostering an Inclusive Culture Through Storytelling
Procore worked with L+M to help develop its cultural language, mission, and vision. It helped ensure new employees were versed in that language was essential, both in how well their values were communicated and in making people feel they belonged and were a part of something.
“I think storytelling is a potent tool for really communicating that language and having people feel included. If I’m going to tell somebody about the culture of our construction company, for example, I could recite the processes that are in the employee manual, or I could tell them a story about the people that they work with. The people that they know and they interact with every day,” said Zahm.
“I think in its ability to engender a feeling of belonging within a culture, to understand the mythology if you will, that campfire lore, once you know the stories at a company, you feel like you belong.”
To learn more about how these industry leaders are transforming their company cultures to keep and hire the best talent, be sure to listen to this on-demand webinar: What’s Next Speaker Series: How to Compete for Top Construction Talent.