Friday, August 19, 2011

Hiring youth in the construction industry

Investing in the youth of this Country
In Village Builders Inc when we use to hire for the labour position we use to hire someone that was between 30 and 50 that had a lot of construction experience. These people are called career construction labourers. This worked well for our company for many years when the company was small and we were able to keep a close eye on everyone. But as the company grew and the amount of employee’s increased the close scrutiny of these employee’s waned. The responsibility was transferred to the crew leaders or the lead carpenters. The operations manager then relied on reports from the crew leaders on how the performance of his crew, attendance and overall attitude were doing. What we realized over time was that the older construction labourers brought not only their skills to the job but they also brought all there bad habits as well.
Bad habits like drug and alcohol addiction that cause the employee to miss the same day of work more often than not. These days are usually the day after they get there check, or a Monday after the weekend or the day after cheap night at the bar. This practice has been learned after a decade or more of doing it with the whole crew from different places they were employed. These habits can actually pull other people in your company that work with the labourer into that lifestyle. It’s also a health and safety issue, if the guy is stoned or even hung over at work he can put his fellow workers and himself in danger. He can damage company tools and private property all because he is not paying attention.
Other bad habits are taking short cuts on the quality of work to get the job done quicker when the boss isn’t looking, stealing of material and “borrowing of company tools” for side projects after work or on the weekend to bring in extra income. This type of employee will even go so far as to steal work from the company by doing work for existing clients on the weekends and at night for cash.
So what we started doing when the company grew to a certain size is we started interviewing and hiring for labour position before we actually needed them. This allowed us to sit down and interview every single candidate. We designed a simple multi question and answer sheet to ask the candidates. What I found with the more questions I asked was that I was trending toward the younger candidates, a lot of them with less experience then there older candidates. What set them apart were a couple of things such as energy, eagerness to work and a willingness to start anywhere in the company at any rate of pay.
What I found in the field was that other then the younger people being less skilled because of lack of experience they listened more to the crew leader and followed instructions. They compensated for the lack of skill with an over abundance of energy and work ethic. They showed up every day and called if they were not going to be able to make it into work or if they were going to be late for work. They also asked permission to leave early if they had an appointment they must attend too. Young people that come into a job like construction with no experience, also come into it devoid of bad habits. This means that after a short adjustment period there learning curve increases over an older more skilled labourer. The one thing that we had to make sure of was that the crew leader had the patience to deal with unskilled labour and was willing to take the time to teach the young employee instead of yelling at them all day long.
A couple of the main questions I always ask a candidate are “do they want a career in the construction industry?” and “Do they want to be a carpenter one day?”  These are important questions because if they answer yes then you know that they are willing to be trained. You can then enrol them into government sponsored apprenticeship programs. In Canada carpenter apprenticeship programs are great for the apprentice and the business that employ’s them. The business is given tax breaks for every apprentice that they employ and the benefits to the apprentice are wonderful as well.
Apprentice carpenters have to go to school 3 times over three years for 8 weeks each time. When they are at school they are paid unemployment, travel, babysitting (if they have children) and are given cash bonuses if and when they pass the course. After they take the three class room workshops they are eligible to challenge the carpenter exam. The only condition is that you need a certain amount of hours to qualify. Usually a person working full time doesn’t have to wait too long after their last class to accumulate the amount of hours that you need to challenge the carpenter exam. But the amount of hours you need is about 4 years of full time work in the construction industry as an apprentice.
In the construction industry most carpenters that I employ are over the age of 50 and are within 10 years of retiring or at the least ready to move out of the field into a more supervisory role. This means that there is starting to be a real shortage of skilled carpenters in the construction industry. It takes 5 to 7 years for an apprentice to attain enough skill to be left to build a house on their own; therefore a lot of companies that do not hire apprentices are running out of time to replace their aging staff. In the future they will have to go out and hire a younger carpenter away from another construction company. This is going to be difficult because that carpenter will have strong ties to the company that trained them and gave them a profession. They are going to have to over pay to bring them in to the fold.
There is about a 50% atrissin rate when you are hiring young people to become apprentices. This might seem high, but I have found that even with all the interviews and checks that you do before you hire someone there are always other factors that affect their employment. From not getting along with existing employee’s to problems at home you end up losing 50% of your apprentices before they ever become carpenters.
Another thing that happens to young people that you hire is that they turn out not to be the right fit to be a carpenter. A lot of people can’t handle being in charge of a crew of people, one of the reasons that you are hiring and training is so that you can build leaders in your company. Some people will never be able to do that, there is nothing wrong with this and there are jobs in construction companies for people that are highly skilled but need to be told what to do. There are carpenter helpers or just carpenters. They work with master carpenters on big projects or they do a lot of small jobs for you that do not require big decisions. This can become a very good long career for certain people as well.
So if you have 4 or 5 carpenters that you need to replace in the next ten years then you need to start now. If you hire 10 apprentices in the next 5 years then when those 5  older carpenters start retiring you will have skilled employee’s that are home grown to replace them. Don’t ever make the mistake to think that you have too many apprentices, as long as you can keep them employed and keep training them then you should never worry about having too many carpenters 7 to 10 years down the road.
Right now we are still struggling with rising out of the worst recession since the great depression. In 7 to 10 years the economic bounce back could be huge. That would mean that you have all of this trained skilled labour available right during a construction boom.
So when thinking about hiring labour’s for your construction business, think about trying out a younger person. Invest in the youth of this country and they will surprise you in the end with what you get back. The down sides are small but the potential return is massive for you and the people that you employ.

Rob Abbott
Operations Manager
Village Builders Inc.

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