How contractors can retain labor in a tight market

Ask any roofing contractor right now and they will tell you it is hard to find workers. According to a survey by The Associated General Contractors of America 89 percent of firms report difficulty finding people to fill hourly wage jobs and no contracting industry is immune to this issue

The labor shortage and supply chain issues have created a unique challenge for the contracting industry on multiple fronts. Hiring new workers is not a realistic option, so our focus must be on retaining the best talent. Our company Overson Roofing is facing all of the same issues any other contractors are dealing with, but lack of labor has not hurt us as much since our hiring strategy has been to hire people full time and do everything we can to keep them here. Good contractors are an investment and business owners should do everything in their power to retain their best employees. Here are a few tips to help ensure you retain your employees during a labor shortage.


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Hire full-time and hire based on company values

So many contracting jobs are filled with independent subcontractors, and working as an independent subcontractor is a great gig in our current economy. However, we believe that contracting companies and contractors prefer the stability of full-time work. Being an independent subcontractor tends to swing dramatically month to month when it comes to job availability. One month you could be overwhelmed with work and the next you could have no work at all. In our experience, many contractors eventually want the security of full-time work. Full-time employment means a regular paycheck every month and consistent work to do. Bringing on full-time employees helps establish a level of commitment for both parties and fosters stronger professional relationships. Your contractors are incentivized to do a good job and you are incentivized to keep finding your team more work so there is always a job to do.

Retaining your best contractors is a good for any contracting business, but to retain good contractors you must hire good contractors. This means looking for people that match up with the values ​​and needs of your contracting company. For example, our company does not hire inexperienced roofers. This creates a short-term hiring barrier for our company but helps us in the long term since when we do hire people we know they are experienced enough to do the work right the first time.

We trust who we hire so we also rely on our contractors to help us find new employees. It is important to use referrals of trusted hires to find new people. When you set high hiring standards the people that stay tend to share those same standards and recommend people with the same work ethic.

Investing in full-time employees requires more effort than hiring part-time or independent contractors, but if you commit long term to your team more often than not they will commit long term to you.

Establish opportunities for employee growth

Contractors should have the chance to grow professionally at your company. The best people stay if they have opportunities for advancement. Give your employees the opportunity to apply themselves and become better assets to your company. One of the reasons I think we have been able to keep our best talent is because they are constantly challenged and rewarded for doing more work. We have guys that started as crew members, moved up to foremen and supervisors, and then started managing supervisors. Hire the right people then put those people in leadership roles as they improve.

Growth more than a promotion it is creating opportunities to educate themselves and become specialists in their fields. Give your employees the time and resources to take training classes. This means training them yourself but also giving them the chance to obtain certifications. All of our supervisors are certified and specialize in a particular roofing style. Our tile guys only work on tile roofs, shingle guys only work on shingle roofs, and our foam guys only work with foam. Give your employees a chance to become the masters of their craft. They will be more likely to stay with you if they know the company is invested in their professional growth. “The definition of an expert is to know more and more about less and less.”

Create a competitive benefits package

Contracting work is difficult work which is why if you want to retain the best contractors you have to make sure you are looking out for their future. I would strongly recommend providing your full-time employees with 401k and medical. Contractors work in a physically demanding and potentially dangerous job so you need to ensure your crews’ long-term physical and financial health are being looked out for. Give them options for healthcare and retirement and educate them on those options. These options give contractors security and keep them on your team.

Finding workers has been a persistent challenge for the contracting industry. The best way to beat a labor shortage is to keep the team you have. Contractors need security, a chance to grow, and a chance to learn and they will be less likely to find new work. Invest in your employees and they will continue to invest their skills into your company.

AUTHOR: Mike Smyth is the General Manager at Overson Roofing, a roofing contractor located in Mesa, Arizona, that has served its clientele with respect and professionalism for over 30 years. The company won the Better Business Bureau Blue® Torch Award for ethics in 2016.

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