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OP-ED: By building relationships, construction sets itself apart

SC2013_DJC_320x320AGC_relationships_graphic4At the end of January, the Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter installed a new president. Brian Gray, the Northwest region president of Knife River Corp., highlighted in his inaugural speech that our industry is one that builds. We build hospitals, schools, airports, bridges and interstate freeways. But, Brian noted, perhaps the most important thing the industry builds is relationships.

Building relationships is a common denominator across the industry. Whether working in building, marine or heavy highway, building relationships and the feeling of camaraderie sets construction apart from other industries. We are part of a team that builds something special – something world-class. What we do is important.

But how does building relationships move the construction industry forward and make it unique?

Relationships build a sense of loyalty. Our members build professional and personal friendships over time. Whether serving on a committee or a board of directors, there are ample opportunities to get to know fellow construction industry members and bid competitors. Companies compete mightily, but often do business together because these faceless competitors become people they know and trust. These companies find that when the circumstances are right, and when they work together, they are stronger and able to accomplish more together than they could apart. These companies come together as part of an industry and part of a larger business community to get things done.

Relationships create a better image for a new generation. The people and ideas that represent the companies that make up the industry have the ability to paint a portrait of the industry – and the education needed to succeed in the industry – in a better light. Cutting-edge career technical education bears little resemblance to the old vocational education programs of decades past. Today’s career technical education (CTE) is reactive to the demands of an ever-changing economy, and grounded in the belief that the skills and abilities students need to succeed in college and careers are effectively identical.

The relationships we build have the power to educate young people on the value of learning a trade, dispel their misconceptions about the construction industry, and inspire them to pursue a career as a skilled construction trades worker. Our commitment to forging these relationships and working with our fellow industry members is absolutely essential to the successful development of our future workforce and, in turn, develops a more positive industry image.

Relationships can recruit the next generation of workers. Building relationships is likely the industry’s strongest pillar on which to recruit the next generation of workers. And what have those workers said matters to them? Contributing to a team that has purpose. Our industry has purpose. We build amazing structures and roads, and people want to be a part of that. The emerging construction workers of the future may do things differently than the older generations, but the change is here, it isn’t stopping, and it’s exciting.

With so many boomers retiring from the trades, the U.S. is going to need many more pipefitters, nuclear power plant operators, carpenters, welders, utility workers – the list is long. A skilled workforce is essential to a productive and sustainable construction industry, and it is becoming more and more apparent that the future of the industry lies in our ability to recruit and retain the greatest amount of talent from the up-and-coming generations.

But how can we best build relationships with the up-and-coming generation of workers? A key tool will be social media, perhaps.

While not a “traditional” relationship, social media is used more and more to keep people connected and, therefore, fosters relationships. Millennials are 247 percent more likely than baby boomers to be influenced by blogs or social networking sites. However, if you think baby boomers are not getting into the social media game, think again. According to a recent study, 70 percent of baby boomers use Facebook, 39 percent use Google+, and 31 percent use Twitter. This means that if we are to attract the best and the brightest (no matter their age), a social media presence is downright essential to establishing our industry as a relevant one in today’s marketplace.

Frankly, given our line of work, a social media presence naturally lends itself to our industry. Between photographing the number of cranes on a job site, blogging about the use of green building techniques, uploading a time lapse video of an engineering masterpiece coming together, conducting a drone inspection of a building, interviewing a company president, or tweeting about the accomplishments of our student groups, our industry has the potential to cultivate a strong social presence. People find that what we do is really cool – and social media can show off that “coolness” almost instantaneously.

Like many industries shackled by staunch traditionalism, construction has been slow to adopt social media as a form of communication with other industry members and associates, business owners within similar localities, and, perhaps most importantly, potential hires. It is estimated that 89 percent of potential job candidates have social media profiles. What a massive relationship building opportunity! If we are not on those same social media channels interacting with the public and marketing ourselves as a strong, highly-skilled, family-wage industry, then we will miss out on an entire generation of workers.

When we marry the physical product of our labor with the human element of the relationships we build on the job, we truly have something special. Through strong outreach and effective communication both in person and on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, we have a very real chance at recruiting an innovative and highly-skilled workforce to meet the industry’s future needs.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or

This article originally appeared in the DJC and can be viewed here. (subscription required)

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