8 Effective Recruitment Strategies for the Construction Industry

From 2019 to 2020, construction job applications decreased by 40% — and things still haven’t recovered in 2023. More recent studies suggest that companies will need to fill a lot more jobs to remain competitive in 2023 and beyond, with some estimating a deficit of 546,000 jobs for the entire industry.

The data is clear: the construction industry has a major recruiting challenge ahead. But with an increasingly tight labor market, competition for top talent is fierce. You don’t want to fill open positions with untrained, unskilled workers who won’t contribute meaningfully to your organization. You need qualified candidates who will add value to your workforce.

Finding, interviewing, and hiring top talent before anyone else does are some of the biggest HR challenges in the construction industry today. But posting basic job descriptions on Indeed and waiting for a response isn’t the best strategy.

Luckily, there are better ways to improve your recruitment — especially for the construction industry. Let’s look at some of the most effective (and not-so-obvious) ways you can recruit new employees.

Recruiting Challenges in the Construction Industry

HR professionals in the construction industry face unique recruiting challenges. In addition to a lack of applications and general disinterest in the field, a low barrier to entry and shifting workforce trends make sorting out good candidates especially difficult.

  • Low Barrier to Entry - It often doesn’t take a lot of education for new applicants to break into the construction industry. Someone with little to no experience can get an entry-level job cleaning, painting, doing drywall, laying asphalt, or directing traffic. While this low barrier does allow you to hire a wider range of people, it can also be a disadvantage in finding better talent overall. Many people will be able to do these jobs, but few will be able to meaningfully contribute beyond that position. The more laymen in your applicant pool, the more difficult it can be to find the excellent workers who will advance and build your future workforce.
  • Shifting Workforce Trends - Traditionally, a resume showing a lot of two-year and three-year stints at different jobs would signal a “job hopper.” To many employers, this still looks like a lack of commitment or maybe even poor performance (why are they leaving jobs so often?). However, this isn’t always the case for every generation. Staying at a job for three years may be above average tenure for the applicant’s age group. This is one reason it’s important to understand different workforce trends, as you might mistakenly write off a potentially great asset to your team. What’s more, younger generations are spending less and less time at one job, and it’s important to understand what they need to build a long-term career with your company.

Taking these challenges into account, the following 8 strategies, when executed properly,  can help you recruit better candidates.

1. Network at Colleges

Depending on your experience in construction, recruiting at colleges and universities may seem like an obvious idea or a poor choice. College students often don’t have the clearest idea of what they’ll be doing after they graduate. By connecting with colleges, you can get your company name in front of seniors who are looking for promising opportunities. One of the main advantages of recruiting with colleges is reaching candidates who can fill administrative positions (like management and finance) or more specialized positions (architecture or engineering).

While there are many ways to network with a college or university, it makes sense to pay attention to relevant majors and departments (construction management, construction technology, architecture, engineering, or even finance). Try setting up a booth at a career fair on campus and building relationships with students who show interest. This puts you in an advantageous position. Even if they don’t apply immediately, you can get their contact information and reach out to them closer to graduation, presenting your company as a great place to start a career.

Otherwise, you can offer to do a guest speaking session or even get an employee to teach a class part-time. This can raise awareness of your company and spread good will on the campus, giving you a wider reach and inspiring students to start a construction career.

2. Network at Trade Schools

Trade schools are often the best place to recruit for skilled laborers. Students in trade schools are usually more job-focused than college students, and may be more apt to accept a job opportunity right away.

One of the main advantages of trade school recruits is specialization. Students in trade schools are often more specialized in one area (electrical work, plumbing, drywall, welding, etc.). This can make it easier to select candidates by recruiting specifically from certain departments and classes. However, this can also be an obstacle, depending on your hiring goals. While many of these students will be quite good at their trade by the time they graduate, they may not have much experience in other fields. For instance, a great welder may not be able to do drywall or asphalt. This might not be the best way to recruit if you are looking for general labor.

Similar to recruiting with colleges, the primary strategy here is to build relationships and spread good will at your local trade schools. Set up booths at job fairs. Speak in classes. Post your company brand and contact info around the school and in places where students are more likely to notice it.

What’s more, connecting with local and state-level career and technical student organizations (CTSO’s) can help you gain access to several viable candidates at once.

3. Hire From Labor Unions

Labor unions are a complex animal for any industry, especially construction. On one hand, they often impose a lot of rules related to work conditions, hours, wages, and union dues that can make payroll a headache without the right software. On the other hand, networking with labor unions can give you access to highly qualified candidates that are ready to work.

Connecting with a labor union gives you a direct pipeline of qualified workers, as it’s often in the union’s best interest to find job opportunities for their members. Likewise, unions often bargain with employers on several aspects of employment and work hard to guarantee good conditions. Because of this, union workers are incentivized to stick with an employer if the situation is good.

Start by contacting the local labor unions who help employ the type of workers you need for your team. Look online, check local business directories, etc. Once you express your interest in hiring some of their members, they will almost certainly want to negotiate terms of employment and other conditions. During this process, be transparent and firm about your hiring requirements and strive to build a good relationship with the union and its members. It will benefit you in the long run.

At the same time, you will need to comply with any collective bargaining agreements, and unions tend to be firm in their requirements.

4. Look Outside Your Own State

Since so much construction is done locally, many companies recruit primarily from their place of operation. However, that severely limits your candidate pool — especially with the power of the internet at your fingertips.

Plenty of companies underestimate the number of viable candidates willing to relocate for the right construction job. Don’t count out a certain city or talent market because of distance. An employer in San Antonio can easily expand their talent pool by recruiting in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Tulsa, New Orleans, and beyond. Plenty of successful construction companies operate across different states, leveraging technology to maintain a connected workforce and manage contracts across the country.

What’s more, there are bound to be jobs within your company that can be done remotely. Embracing remote and hybrid work where possible can give you greater reach and your employees more flexibility. For instance, you could fill a secretary position that works on the other side of the country from the actual job site. If the job only involves the exchange of information, the right communication technology can help.

5. Post on Job Boards

A job board is a common recruiting source. However, not every board is well-suited to finding the type of talent you want for your workforce. ZipRecruiter and Indeed are often full of both qualified and unqualified candidates (people looking for any job they can get), and it can take time to sort through them to find the best ones. Instead, post on job boards that are tailored specifically for construction.

Here are some examples:

You may also look on more niche sites for certain trades like plumbing and electrical work. These may not be well-suited for general laborers, but can help you fill some very specific roles in your company.

6. Offer Apprenticeships

One of the toughest parts of hiring for construction is finding skilled labor. However, by hiring people without prior experience or formal education and training them on the job, you expand your talent pool.

In an apprenticeship, a new hire joins your team to learn a specific trade (through on-the-job training), usually from a more skilled employee. They may make a lower wage until they are fully trained, or for a certain number of years, but this isn’t always the case.

Some people looking for construction jobs might be great workers with high potential, but might not have had the resources to go to college or a trade school. Offering them the opportunity to start a career with your company provides two primary advantages:

  1. You can hire someone without prior training, giving you more options among applications.
  2. You can extend good will to someone who may not have many other opportunities. This will help you increase employee retention, since you gave the employee their first chance at a career and taught them everything they know about their trade.

Keep in mind that in order for apprenticeships to work as a recruiting strategy, you will need to have an excellent on-the-job training and onboarding program. You’ll also need to have highly skilled employees on staff that can train apprentices. Otherwise, your new hires will remain unskilled.

Keep in mind that new hires for an apprenticeship program will likely take longer than the average employee to fully ramp up. It may take several months or years before they meaningfully contribute to your organization. Be prepared to lose money on these candidates at first.

7. Upgrade Your Employment Brand

Your brand as an employer is one of your most important assets. It determines how people perceive your company and answers the question, “What is it like to work for you?” Building your reputation as a good employer is a fantastic method to passively recruit people in the construction industry.

Showcase your employment experience via several channels, including social media, paid marketing, organic search, and even print. Get promotional materials in front of as many people in your industry as possible, focusing your efforts on candidate pools like the ones we’ve described (union members, college students, trade students, people on job boards, etc.). It may take time, but the more you promote your image as a positive employer (backed up with great compensation and policies), the easier it will be to successfully implement other recruitment strategies.

During promotion, prioritize testimonials from your employees about their experience. Don’t be afraid to brag about the benefits you offer your workforce, either.

8. Implement an Employee Referral Program

Employee referrals are a great way to engage employees with your employment brand. By allowing your employees to recruit for you, you’ll reach new candidates you may not otherwise have access to. For instance, your best welder might have a friend who is dissatisfied with their current role elsewhere. A great referral program  incentivizes your welder to speak to their friend about your company and convince him to apply. The best part about this strategy is that it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. Once the program is active, it should work on its own.

However, employees will rarely do this for free. You’ll need to budget for referral incentives like bonuses or other perks. You’ll also need to define what is considered a “win” with a referral. How long must the employee stay at the company before the reward kicks in? Are there any performance requirements? How much is the reward, and how will it be issued?

For this to be effective, you’ll also need to promote the referral program across the company. Make it easy to understand and participate in. If the barrier to reaping the benefits of a referral is too high, employees are less likely to participate. If possible, create a simple, accessible portal where people can sign up and select the employee who referred them to your company. You’ll also want an easy method for automatically applying the reward to the referring employee’s profile and paycheck.

Tips To Optimize Your Recruitment Strategies

No recruitment strategy will be effective on its own. You’ll want to improve several other areas of your business to give your team the best shot at finding and retaining top talent.

Write a Great Job Post

A basic job description won’t catch a lot of eyes on a job board. A hard sales pitch may also turn people away entirely. You need a job post that is both clear about the requirements and enticing to potential new hires, without sounding like a Craigslist advertisement.

When writing your job post, be welcoming, exciting, yet 100% clear about what you want from a candidate. Your goal is not to attract as many people as possible with a flashy but misleading message. You want to attract candidates that are most qualified and willing to meet the role’s expectations in exchange for its compensation — all in a professional tone.

Start a Conversation

When reaching out to a potential candidate (before they submit an application), don’t just say “Look at our open jobs and see which one you like best.” This is highly impersonal, no matter what network you’re tapping into.

Instead, start a conversation with the person about their career goals and aspirations. Get to know them. Build a relationship that demonstrates you care about their professional development. This will allow you to truly assess:

  1. If they can be successful with your company
  2. Which specific positions might be best for them

This will also give the potential candidate a good first impression of your company as one that cares about employees. This will help boost engagement and retention in the long run.

Improve Onboarding

A recruitment strategy will only get someone in the door. But what follows is just as important. A candidate may be highly skilled or desirable in your industry, but without an engaging onboarding program that helps them fully integrate into your fold, you risk losing them. Even the smallest occupational hiccups can:

  • Sour their perspective on the job
  • Stunt professional growth
  • Make it difficult to assimilate into your team  (and build healthy work relationships)

Don’t let poor onboarding hinder a new hire’s success. Allow them to focus on using their skills to benefit your company, not worrying about how to contact their manager, track time correctly, or access their employee documents.

Use Technology to Streamline Your Recruitment Process

Construction companies using legacy systems or outdated tools risk falling behind their industry peers. You have bigger challenges to tackle than payroll, managing union rules and collective bargaining agreements, or generating labor reports. Don’t let poor technology hold your team back from its true potential.

Your employees also need technology to help streamline their work and make them more efficient. This is especially true for your HR team during the hiring and onboarding process.

With Criterion HCM, you can easily improve talent engagement in several areas:

  • Track resumes and manage related documentation for all candidates
  • Streamline hiring and interviewing workflows with custom logic
  • Easily transition new employees
  • Build and manage unique onboarding workflows
  • Create and distribute custom training modules to different teams
  • Configure your communication settings to improve hiring and onboarding
  • Update all employee data and important documents for your organization in one place

Final Thoughts

As someone in charge of building your company’s workforce, don‘t rely on just one recruiting strategy. You need a variety of strategies to cover several employment markets at once. By building reliable pipelines for qualified candidates, you'll easily and consistently recruit top talent.

Leverage various networks — even niche networks that might not be obviously connected to the positions you need right away. You may need to fill new roles in the future, and you’ll want access to that pool of candidates.

But once you have a steady stream of new hires, you need technology that enables your recruiting and HR efforts, with support from a company that cares about your business needs. At Criterion, we’ve provided excellent HCM software for more than 20 years, with quality features built specifically for HR professionals in construction and related industries.

Book a demo to learn how Criterion HCM can improve your recruiting and onboarding workflows in no time.

Richa Singla
HCM Implementation Manager with 12+ years of experience across Professional services, Solutions and Business Strategy Consulting.
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