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OP-ED: To recruit workers, go where they go

DJC300This column originally appeared in The Daily Journal of Commerce in Buildings Bridges and Roads
By: Mike Salsgiver

Mike SalsgiverAs our industry enters into its busy season, thousands of Oregon students are graduating from high schools and colleges. At the same time, you cannot read headlines today without seeing something about the next generation of workers and the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage. The biggest post-recession challenge faced by contractors continues to be finding and retaining the best talent – and talent is sorely needed.

Today, nearly 60 percent of construction firms report having some difficulty finding enough skilled workers to fill key professional and craft positions. 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, including recent grads.

These emerging workers accept that we live in a constantly connected world. Having grown up during the recession, they have realistic expectations about career opportunities and have already proven themselves highly intelligent workers with valuable skills that are on par (and sometimes surpassing) their adult predecessors.

So, where can we as an industry step in to demonstrate to these young people that our line of work is a viable career option for them, while appealing to their need for on-demand, almost instantaneous information? Social media.

Statistics on these emerging workers are quite illustrative of the tools they use to stay connected to the people in their lives, the companies and brands they like most, and even where they will apply to jobs:

  • 40 percent of them check their Facebook more than 10 times per day
  • 76 percent spend more than one hour each day on Facebook
  • 58 percent say they use Twitter “all the time”
  • 83 percent use their phones to take pictures, and 64 percent share those photos with others on sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter
  • 52 percent use social media to follow or “like” a brand or company
  • 90 percent check their emails, texts and social media accounts on their smartphones before getting out of bed.

So what does this mean to us as an industry? It means we need an online presence and, more specifically, a social presence to attract new talent and recruit the future generations.

In Oregon, the average wage of a construction worker is nearly $52,000 – 16 percent more than all other private-sector employees in the state. In a recent poll, over 60 percent of Generation Z (made up of the members of 2015’s high school and college graduates) responded that making “a lot of money” is important to them. Because many of the post-recession construction jobs often pay better than many post-college options, and taking the path into the highly-skilled trades is a lot cheaper than a four-year degree, we already meet one of their most important criteria! But we have to be able to communicate this industry benefit and others to them using communication channels that actually reach them.

Millennials are 247 percent more likely to be influenced by blogs or social networking sites than the baby boomer generation. 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 ourselves as a relevant industry 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, 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 what we do 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, legislators and lobbyists that work on behalf of the industry, industry experts with unparalleled knowledge and insight, and, perhaps most importantly, potential hires. It is estimated that 89 percent of potential job candidates have social media profiles. 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. As the most digitally gifted generation yet, we must harness the excitement that these young people have toward technology and making money and help them channel it into lasting careers.

If income stability and long-term career development are as important to them as they have demonstrated, construction already offers these benefits. Through strong outreach and effective communication 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

To view the column online, please click here (DJC subscription required).

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