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Nothing New About How to Keep Your Employees

The industry employee deficit is real, and is moving into near-crisis territory.

Mon January 12, 2015 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

You can tell that some construction industry officials are getting serious about attracting and retaining employees: They are adopting trendy programs and using words with lots of syllables. Hot dog!

The employee crisis is real, of course, or at least is moving into near-crisis territory. During the recession and post-recession slowdown, old hands retired and younger construction veterans decided to seek a living in a less volatile line of work. Meanwhile, the youngest generations in the workforce continue to choose software work in cubicles over hard physical labor in the field.

Result: Contractors are looking at higher levels of work but with lower levels of experienced help in the equipment yard. Consequently, some employers are turning to what is called “onboarding.” The word dates from the 1970s and alludes to the idiomatic expression “on board,” as in, “Welcome on board, James. We know you’ll be a great employee.”

Onboarding is described, get your tongue ready, as “organizational socialization.” It is a plan for orienting new employees, acclimating them to company culture, training and mentoring them, and basically holding them by a hand until they feel secure in their new workplace environment. Sounds a lot like pre-kindergarten.

Anyway, some companies are hopping, dare I say it, on board. Their human resources people are using the jargon like it is their native language. They are rolling out PowerPoints on how to socialize their newly recruited employees. As a result of all this, the industry’s labor problem should be easing up by about next Tuesday.

OK, enough spoofery. Lots of well-meaning HR professionals and astute executives in the industry are trying their dangedest to lure capable people into construction crafts and professional positions.

In the end, though, this is how the problem will be solved: New hands must be paid a highly competitive wage, entrusted with tasks that will bring satisfaction and personal growth, and given a full measure of respect as a human being and employee. If executives and managers will do that—call it “straightshooting”—their problem will be over.

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