Results of an industry-wide survey of 1,600 respondents conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Autodesk this summer showed 70 percent of construction firms reporting difficulty in filling hourly craft positions. The positions represent the bulk of the construction workforce. The responses represent a labor drought the asphalt industry has become well aware of, and that everyone—from hiring personnel to federal government agencies—wishes to address. The shortage of qualified workers has short and long-term ramifications for more than individual companies.
“In the short-term, fewer firms will be able to bid on construction projects if they are concerned they will not have enough workers to meet demand,” AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr said. “Over the long-term, either construction firms will find a way to do more with fewer workers, or public officials will take steps to encourage more people to pursue careers in construction.”
Members of the asphalt industry are taking those steps, and sharing their ideas here. The asphalt company owner or hiring manager looking for new crew members or a new office worker at headquarters has not only a company to pitch to future candidates—he or she has an entire industry and culture to advertise. Luckily, your human resources manager isn’t doing this alone.
Work with SAPAs
Each month, a different executive director from a state asphalt pavement association shares his or her background and viewpoints in the pages of AsphaltPro. One of the topics we explore with each SAPA leader relates to the workforce and how that particular state brings new people to the asphalt industry. Jon Young is the executive director for the Hawaii Asphalt Pavement Industry (HAPI) who recently discussed how he helps his member companies recruit.
“The University of Hawaii College of Engineering has a career fair on campus,” Young said. “HAPI will have a table there to publicize jobs in the industry. My idea is we would have an explanation of what HAPI is. Then I had a human resources exec at one of our member companies write up a list of jobs with descriptions and qualifications for a handout.”
Young shared that this career fair, held on a college campus, targets engineers and project managers most directly. Another career fair, hosted in conjunction with the General Contractors of America (GCA), focuses on high school students and targets youth who may be interested in more hands-on equipment and labor work. It’s a Construction Career Day.
“These are fun things for me,” Young said. “I like getting our industry into the public eye. Plus we want to get the word out about HAPI.”
Hawaii isn’t the only state offering the opportunity to reach youth in a job fair setting. Florida has four chapters of the Construction Career Days serving the North, Central, Tampa and South Florida regions, hosting events that encourage job seekers to consider a career in construction, and offering scholarships for students in those counties. The CCD program began in 1999 and is everywhere.
“The nationwide educational outreach program is designed to cultivate interest in high school students for the wide variety of skilled construction careers. The local events give students the chance to get a feel for the field by participating in activities like operating machinery and speaking to experienced industry veterans. CCD events are organized by transportation industry partners from the public and private sectors. Nearly all 50 states hold at least one CCD event. Currently, Florida holds CCD events in Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando areas. Partner agencies and organizations responsible for the event include the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Transportation Builders Association, the Suncoast Utility Contractors Association, the National Association of Women in Construction and the Federal Highway Administration.”
The Lehman-Roberts Company, Memphis, Tennessee, participates in the Soulsville USA Job & Resource Fair in the fall, where reps from many companies in the area set up tables to take resumes. As we were preparing this article, the human resources team at Lakeside Industries Inc., Issaquah, Washington, was participating in a number of job fairs. These are events you can tackle single-handedly, but companies in the asphalt industry are fortunate to have the SAPA network to help coordinate booths or time, and to share costs at these events. As some SAPA directors have learned, events in the past have been expensive ventures when heavy equipment and insurance riders were part of the equation. Now there are options such as career fairs hosted by local workforce development boards that allow federal funding to cover costs.
Jim Purcell, the technical director of the New Jersey APA, shared that he will participate in such an event hosted by the Mercer County Development Board, of which he is a member, at the end of November. The opportunity is not necessarily for recruitment, he explained, but for education.
“We can’t put the jobs and companies in front of candidates first,” Purcell said. “There’s no point in having them fill out an application and then find out they’re not qualified for the job. That’s a waste of the company’s time.”
Instead, an event such as the career fair where organizations introduce job types within the industry shows job-seekers what’s available. Purcell is assembling a poster that shows not only the types of jobs available in the asphalt industry, but pay ranges for those jobs in the New Jersey region.
The career fair also gives industry the chance to direct job-seekers to financial and training help.
“There are apprenticeship programs available to them,” Purcell said. “The federal government has monies available to train them. At the event, organizations can talk to them and then direct them to the County Workforce Development Board table where they can get apprenticeship and financial help.”
Youth, and even adults, who participate in an apprenticeship, could be getting a tax break to help offset expenses soon. As of press time, H.R. 3395 had not yet moved past its introduction to Congress, although the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) reported Nov. 3 that the bill had 60 co-sponsors. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa) introduced the bill July 25, 2017, titled “529 Opening Paths to Invest in Our Nation’s Students Act.” For short: 529 OPTIONS Act. If it were to pass, construction and trades related apprenticeships would be allowed tax free distributions from section 529 college savings plans, for expenses such as books, supplies, and costs associated with obtaining an industry certification, as well as other specific costs. You can sign up for alerts on H.R. 3395’s progress—and any other legislation of interest to you—at www.govtrack.us/congress/bills. But the bill might not be vital on its own with the tax reform Congress introduced Nov. 2.
H.R. 1, also referred to as “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” includes language allowing 529 plans to be used to pay for costs that are “directly related to participating in a DOL-approved apprenticeship program,” according to NECA.
The career fair is just the first step in sharing with high school students and out-of-work adults that promising careers in construction are available. They can’t aspire to something they don’t know is available. And as many sources were quick to agree, guidance counselors aren’t promoting the construction field. It’s up to those of us in the field to remind job-seekers that this option has benefits.
Individual companies don’t have to be in a state organization to participate in a school’s career day, or to host a career day of their own. Throughout 2017, AsphaltPro has included anecdotes from asphalt producers and contractors concerning their recruitment efforts, and a favored method for reaching new talent is being part of community career events. Even if you don’t have an opening on your crew or in the lab during the month of a career day, your presence keeps your company and your industry in front of tomorrow’s new hires. That forward-thinking is something schools and companies can do with reciprocal advising.
Get Out of the Box
Reciprocal advising begins with a teacher and a handful of experts in the field. When Bruce Wilson, O’Fallon, Missouri, chairman of the ASME Dimensioning and Tolerancing Committee (Y14.5) and author of GD&T Application and Interpretation, taught drafting and technical drawing to engineering students at Whiteside Area Vocational Center in Sterling, Illinois, he sought five technical advisors from companies in the region to volunteer their time as his technical advisory committee.
“We met a couple times a year,” Wilson explained. “At one time, I asked for real project ideas for my students to complete as part of their coursework. I then helped some of the students get set up with internships, and some went on to obtain employment, in their companies.”
Wilson described the cooperative education that took place as similar to an internship. During the time the student spends in the advisor’s company, the teacher is still involved and can help the student with his learning-on-the-job. By developing a partner or mentor relationship with a trades program, your company could be in a position to offer curriculum advice to department heads.
Amzie Hoffner, MS, SPHR, is a vice president at S.T. Wooten, Wilson, North Carolina, and shared that the company participates with schools. “Locally, we have been building close partnerships with community colleges and workforce development groups.”
These opportunities exist today in high school programs as well. One original equipment manufacturer (OEM) reached out to schools during 2017 to encourage a range of trades programs.
Harbor Freight Tools, Calabasas, California, introduced a program this year through which it awarded $510,000 to skilled trades teachers and programs in American public high schools. The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was designed to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades, to inspire students to learn a trade that prepares them for a career after high school.
“We created this prize out of huge respect for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands to create, build and repair,” Eric Smidt said. He’s the founder of the prize and founder, owner and CEO of Harbor Freight Tools.
Check out the sidebar for a list of the 10 schools and education teams that received an award in this first year. They may be graduating your next mechanic, foreman or other skilled team member.
Another OEM that hosts a program annually is Heavy Construction Systems Specialists Inc., Sugar Land, Texas. The Construction Intern Awards is a scholarship program designed to recognize both the strongest interns/students in construction and the companies with the best internship programs. This year’s winners will be announced after we go to press. To participate next year, for example, a student must participate in a construction internship for at least two months during the August 2017 to August 2018 school year. The student must be enrolled in a college, university or trade school during the 2017-2018 school year. The grand prize is $10,000 for the Construction Intern of the Year. Sixteen other finalists and honorable mentions receive cash prizes as well. Get more information about participating here.
Educational facilities from vocational schools to universities will have departments and/or staff who assist students with job placement upon graduation. Make sure you are a resource for those staff members, and make sure your career opportunities are posted with the schools in your region.
You will want to choose your posting locations wisely to protect your time. Throwing a free job listing onto the Craigslist for your city may turn up applications that are merely time-wasters for your human resources department; while assisting a company in Southwest Florida, I found that the majority of responders to its multiple Craigslist job postings were underqualified and not fully interested in a successful job hunt. That is only one example, of course. Your results in another area of the country may be different.
Put your job listing on a site where relevant applicants will see it. Check out Diesel Jobs, Diversity Jobs and jobrapido to start. One of the highest ranking job search sites is Indeed, but think about the candidate you wish to recruit. Is that person using LinkedIn? Depending on the level of sophistication he or she needs for the post, he or she may have a profile there, and the site is ranked highly for finding employees. Maybe your next candidate is checking job postings at SnagAJob or US.jobs. We recently discussed the Glassdoor site in the Off the Mat column, and that site allows employers to post job listings. The Asphalt Pavement Alliance has this resource for our industry specifically. The point is to consider your ideal candidate, and then post where you think that candidate will be looking.
Let Them Know You Care
As we can see by the example Harbor Freight set this year, the effort to bring the next mechanic or skilled engineer into the industry is not limited to the contractors among us. Continental Corporation, ContiTech, with U.S. headquarters in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, is an industrial specialist with around 46,000 employees in 44 countries making products and systems of rubber, polyamide, metal, textile and electronics. You’ve no doubt seen their conveyors at CONEXPO/CON-AGG. This year, their employee Sally Edwards celebrated her 50-year anniversary with the company’s automotive hose and belt plant in Lincoln, Nebraska.
For the first 21 years, she worked in Hose Final, inspecting and packing hoses, in Lot Release, and in Laminated Cut Edge. During that time, she became a union steward, secretary and a policy committee member. May 1, 1988, she became the plant’s union pension and insurance representative and still works in that role. She helped negotiate contracts from 1993 to 2003.
She told us her favorite subject in high school was math.
“In her current role, she gets to use this still from time to time,” a spokesperson for the company shared. “Things like pension calculations and benefit/premium rates.”
“Over the years, Sally has worked with and mentored many associates, not only in Lincoln, but in other Continental locations as well,” human relations manager at the plant, Travis McFarland, said. “We are very grateful for all the years of dedication Sally has given us.”
Edwards isn’t talking retirement yet, saying, “All the people I have worked with are like family.” In companies all across North America, veteran employees are retiring. On one hand, this speaks highly of the pensions and benefits available in this industry that facilitate retirement. On the other hand, it leaves a skills gap for companies to fill.
At Lehman-Roberts, the team celebrated 25 years of service from Charles Greer in October.
Edwards participated in employee training since 1967. “As for training, she has done a lot of training over the years. Everything from time-study school to leadership development classes…she has been continuously attending training.”
Ben Brock, president and CEO of Astec Industries Inc., Chattanooga, Tennessee, shared that, in these good economic times for our industry, it would be difficult to entice people without paying them during on-the-job training. He attributed this to the number of good opportunities open to them. “We hire and train while we pay our new employees,” he said.
Campbell Brooks, the director of human resources for Astec, explained, “One of the things we think is important when recruiting ‘white collar’ employees is to discuss our succession planning process during interviews. This allows us the opportunity to show applicants we have a process in place for training and job exposures that will better position them in the future for potential career advancement that is based upon company growth and needs, and the applicant’s individual preferences and goals.”
On-the-job training implies you’ve successfully brought an applicant to your door and hired him or her. Wooten’s Hoffner offered advice on that step, also. “We’re proud that half of our employees have been with us for at least five years, and a third for more than 10 years. But trying to get people in the door is the hard part. We are dealing with the same recruiting challenges as the rest of the industry. Regardless of your company size, you can’t fix the problem by yourself. Therefore, we work with national organizations like AGC in support of larger industry recruitment initiatives. But to attract and retain solid employees, you need to have a good reputation. You have to know who you are and what you offer. Your reputation as a great place to work should stand alone—the fact that we work in construction is secondary.”
One of the national organizations reaching out to workers is NAPA. The incoming chair of the IMPACT Leadership Group is Tim Caudle, who is the vice president at Silver Star Construction Co. Inc., Moore, Oklahoma. Caudle will lead this team of up-and-coming asphalt industry professionals, and will welcome help from industry. IMPACT evolved from the NAPA Young Leaders Program, which was established in 2004, and focuses on providing education, leadership development training and networking opportunities.
The other point Hoffner called attention to ties into community relations, which is another article on its own (see Positive Culture Wins over Strategy on page 42 for an example). Consider what you can advertise with your marketing and promotion budget that goes beyond announcing the annual company picnic. When a large number of your employees participate in a charity event or your company pays a crew at no cost to the local Boys and Girls Club to repair their meeting place parking lot, send a press release with pictures to the local paper. It’s not only zoning board members who need to see your efforts, but future employees need to know that your company cares about the community. When a member of the highway crew smiles for the camera and tells why he’s been part of your company for 25 years, you have a winning testimonial not only for your business, but for the whole industry. Share that. Share that far and wide to let others know of the rewarding careers available in the asphalt industry.