Building for Change: Attracting and Retaining the Next Generation of Construction Professionals
For companies looking to engage younger generations, build a talent pipeline, and increase employee retention, the question is often how. In partnership with the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of California and Build California, Procore interviewed recent college graduates, construction industry leaders and social equality experts to understand where employers need to be to attract and retain the next generation.
In the following Q&A, interviewees provide actionable steps to engage young professionals, foster inclusive cultures that increase retention, and more.
Q: As Chair of the AGC of CA Young Professionals Group, can you share the top three things younger generations look for when seeking job opportunities in the construction industry?
Casey McEndree, Project Manager at Underground Construction: Generation Z and Millennials look for the three C’s:
- Culture: Culture is the most important. If you don’t want to come into work every day, you will find somewhere else to work. You have to enjoy where you're working and feel comfortable and able to grow.
- Compensation: Compensation is complex. A lot of people think compensation and they think hard dollars. However, if a company can only give a certain salary but they're listing other benefits, like paid family leave and telecommuting options, younger generations will take that into consideration. It's not all about the money. It's about the quality of life.
- Communication or Control: This one differs between the two generations. Millennials want communication. They want feedback and to understand where they are going, how they are getting there, and ways to improve. Generation Z wants control. They want control over their path within a company so asking questions about their interests and passions empowers them to control their own destiny. That will help motivate them.
Q: If a company wants to attract and retain younger generations, what are some things they might want to consider?
Sarah Sladek, CEO and Chief Strategist at XYZ University: Here are some ways companies can successfully engage talent and prepare for the next generation while building a future-focused culture.
- Understand the current state: Every day the shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry becomes more acute. In 2013, it was projected that 40% of construction workers were over the age of 49 and 54% of construction managers were over the age of 49. By 2015, it was projected that over a million construction workers would retire by 2024. While the industry was thriving as of 2019, there was a shortage of qualified workers and there were few schools and technical-education programs. The awareness has been there for quite some time, but companies and organizations have struggled to know what to do.
- Create space for open dialogue: When we talk about diversity and inclusion, one piece that gets overlooked is cognitive diversity. That is simply the act of bringing together people with different experiences, backgrounds, and skill sets. Organizations that tend to thrive put their most experienced workers alongside people who are new to the organization. As a result, intergenerational collaboration increases, relationships thrive, and people feel like they're part of a team. Anytime collaboration and innovation increase, employee engagement increases.
- Prioritize your employees: We spend a huge proportion of our time at work so there's this mindset that, "I want to work somewhere where I enjoy my work, it's a valuable use of my time, and it's something positive in my life.”A people-first culture has become the driving, motivating factor, especially for younger generations and where they choose to work.
- Get started now: There continues to be urgency to this. I would encourage leaders of construction companies not to be overwhelmed. If you can just think of one change you could make in your organization to foster teamwork, put people first, and be more mindful of the future, it would make a tremendous difference. We've got to turn the tide, and there's no better time to start than right now.
Q: Founded by AGC of CA, Procore and LCPTracker, Build California was created to inspire, engage, and activate the next generation of California’s construction industry. For employers looking to seek out the next generation and build a talent pipeline, what’s a good starting point?
Erin Volk, Vice President of Workforce & Community Development at AGC of CA: The industry must make a concerted effort to shift the paradigm and make young people, teachers, and parents aware of the career potential that exists within the construction industry today. We must focus on the power of investing in long-term, targeted marketing that reshapes and increases brand awareness and engagement. Through Build California, we’re able to shape positive perceptions of the construction industry, inform young people and their influencers about the real career opportunities in construction, and connect them to local training and apprenticeship programs. Since 2019, Build California has offered a robust statewide training/apprenticeship database, a job board and much more. By providing young people with both tech-forward and hands-on construction career exploration activities, we’re able to excite them about the many career pathways within construction.
Q: Blach Construction has been ranked nationally by Fortune as one the top small and medium-size companies to work for. Can you explain how you’ve built an inclusive culture that fosters engagement and drives diversity?
Mike Blach, Chairman of Blach Construction & President of AGC of CA: To be attractive to a young professional, you have to be doing so many things well. Our recently retired Human Resources lead, Gaye Landau-Leonard, helped us get focused and intentional about our actions based on employee survey feedback. If you take great care of your colleagues and make it so they're fully supported in a high-trust environment, then that frees them up to take care of your customers. At Blach Construction, we offer career development resources, special benefits packages, student debt relief programs, family-friendly benefits, pension plans, and much more.
For inclusion and diversity, it all starts with hiring. Over a decade ago, we expanded our candidate pool and looked at universities that have much higher percentages of Black and Latinx students. We’ve since hired many more employees from underrepresented backgrounds and supported them as they’ve taken on upper-mid management positions. We always try to hire young people and help develop their careers.
Q: What are the most common missteps employers make when attracting and retaining the next generation of construction professionals?
Dr. Giovanna Brasfield, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Flatiron Construction:
- Recruiting from homogenous networks: When aiming to attract and retain the next generation, it’s important to look at multiple diverse organizations, agencies, and universities. You want your workforce to reflect an inclusive work environment, one in which employees feel as though they can see themselves at your company long term.
- Failing to engage your employees as advocates: Though often overlooked by many companies, the use of employees can positively impact the overall recruitment process. The best marketing effort is having your employees go back to their alma mater or engage their Alumni Associations to share the benefits of employment.
- One-size-fits-all career development: For project-specific efforts, Flatiron has a designated Training Institute Coordinator. As one of the initiatives under the eight track institute, this individual assists our project team to engage young professionals and raise awareness of the project, science, technology, engineering, architecture, and mathematics (STEAM) fields and construction-related opportunities.
If a company wants to address past missteps, take the failed effort as an opportunity to reevaluate and learn from what could be done better. There are resources, tools, and allies readily available to support you on your journey.
Q: What are some actionable steps that employers can take to attract and retain the next generation?
Dina Kimble, President & CEO at Royal Electric Company: We're passionate about making kids aware of construction careers. Building relationships with local educational institutions helps raise awareness of the construction industry for future professionals, while internships provide students in high school and beyond with a hands-on experience of what it means to build. Our company also works with apprenticeship programs on their recruitment efforts to create visibility around a career in construction. Additionally, we have a fully-staffed recruitment team that focuses on project management, skilled trades, interns and more to help bridge the gap between the classroom and the job site.
It’s critical companies find messaging that appeals to students and meets them on the platforms they use. The messaging is about sharing our passion for what we do: We're out there building things and we're able to drive by and say, "I built that." That's a message that really speaks to younger generations and gets them excited.
Visit buildcalifornia.com for more resources, practical tools, and proven solutions on how to attract and retain the next generation.