Have you noticed the trend in the business press connecting employee happiness with loyalty and retention? For young workers, money is no longer the sole consideration. Now, they seek unquantifiable factors, such as enjoyment and fulfillment. The lists of “best employers” always include companies that offer unusual perks and flexible choices. Are these ideas applicable to electrical contracting?
If your first reaction to this trend is to judge the workforce as spoiled and in need of a better understanding of how things are done in the real world, you’re not alone. As an educator, I am dismayed by the trickle-up effect of elementary school “support.”
In my opinion, students are ill-prepared for the work world. Without a generation willing to forgo certain comforts at the workplace, I fear employers face the choice of reducing their expectations or closing their doors as the workforce shortage widens.
However, after decades as an employee, manager, business owner, trainer, tutor and teacher, I also have seen changes that give me hope for the future of the workforce that will build this country’s infrastructure. Here are some personal observations to guide your planning and help find and develop competent replacements for your retiring employees.
Observation No. 1: If you are recruiting young employees, you may find some gaps you may have taken for granted. Some high school and college students have limited mental math ability after relying on calculators, and overreliance on autocorrect and spellcheck has eroded their written communication skills. With texting as a new social standard, this generation isn’t as adept at direct, spoken communication.
Observation No. 2: Young adults have high expectations for their employers. In the 1990s, one apprentice’s bank kept calling me to verify employment for a vehicle loan about a month before his next raise was due. His financial decision making was based on the expectation of a large raise, even if I thought he did not merit it. Today, as a teacher, I have observed high school students have similarly high expectations before they consider whether they have earned it.
Observation No. 3: Today’s young employees change jobs frequently and are harder to retain, especially if they don’t like the work they are doing. Today’s workers plan the future in short hops, and each employer is a two-year stepping-stone on the career path, not necessarily a place to belong for many years.
It remains difficult to convince someone to perform unpleasant tasks in the short term to earn a more desirable position for the long term.
The solutions for adjusting to these realities are not clear or certain. In a sense, you are competing with other employers that offer benefits such as free meals and paid sabbaticals. Employees want to bring their dogs to work, take naps, spend an hour a day on social media and work at home occasionally, and who wouldn’t? If other companies are providing such benefits, how do you compete?
Your level of resistance will create the first obstacle in meeting this challenge. Setting unrealistic goals for college graduation while ignoring the need for people who can create, maintain and replace the components of the built environment is a monumental task. Tuition costs are astronomical, and parents risk financial hardship to pay them. Recent studies show possible candidates for construction jobs still believe the work is dirty, backbreaking and beneath them. Every contractor must be a public relations advocate as well as a profitable enterprise.
Consider making some changes. Use your training program to fill the gaps in basic skills, and provide the technology for employees to complete the training at work. Create fast-track pathways for motivated workers who will make the extra effort to earn the next promotion. Make your workplace more flexible, comfortable and even more fun. A Nerf basketball hoop is an inexpensive way to start signaling your good intentions.
Next month, we’ll look more specifically at employee development.