The construction industry has a reputation problem. It’s so bad that Millennial workers are largely turning away from jobs in construction. According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, the median age of construction workers in 2000 was 37.9. By 2010, the median age jumped to 40.4 years old.
So what’s the big problem? And how can the construction industry recover?
Below, I’ll outline three major Millennial traits, how they clash with the construction industry, and what your firm can do to alleviate the problem and recruit some younger employees.
Remember ‘baby on board’ signs? V-chips? Urban curfews?
Millennials have grown up in an era of intense child protection. As they’ve aged, Millennials have been consistently confronted with safeguards implemented by adults. And since this has been a constant since they were young, they’ve come to expect it. Long gone are the Generation X days of wandering latchkey kids and Boomer days of kids rolling around unattended on bikes through urban neighborhoods. Millennials just didn’t grow up with it—and they probably prefer it that way.
Most Millennials are quick to accept safety precautions given to them—in fact, most embrace and expect it, and their parents do too. Millennials are not only worried about their own physical safety, but also their emotional and financial health.
Given this it’s no wonder that the construction industry hasn’t been able to attract many Millennial workers.
Make safety a core part of your construction brand. Not only will it appeal to potential buyers, but prospective young employees will respect it as well. Publish your stellar safety record to appeal to both the public and to your potential employees. Use construction management software to streamline your processes and cut down on potential workplace injuries.
Demonstrate your commitment to protecting your workers by hiring safety managers and pushing your employees to go through workshops. This isn’t just for your potential Millennial hires—their parents, likely a large influence on their career choices, will want to see it as well.
And it should go without saying: make safety a priority at your company.
The Blue-Collar Stigma
Blue-collar workers represent an aging workforce in what Millennials see as a dying field.
As college degrees skyrocket, Millennials don’t see a clear path of progression through the construction industry—they believe that they will be laborers forever with no room for advancement. They would rather use their incredibly expensive degree for something they think is more lucrative—ironically, even if it sticks them in the internship spiral.
While older generations (Boomers and Xers) have been able to navigate traditional blue-collar jobs to higher paid positions, Millennials see avoiding the industry altogether to pursue more ‘prestigious’ jobs (meaning in tech or consulting) as panning out better in the long-term.
This one is tough.
Millennials, given their adherence to safety, will want to avoid contracting jobs. They want to be in a steady fulltime job where they have regular access to healthcare. And because they can get that at other jobs, construction firms will have to bite the bullet to compete. Invest in training your Millennial construction worker so that they feel secure that their viability as a hirable employee will continue to grow. Establish skills progression programs with rewards as Millennials move up the training ladder. Doing so will help restructure the industry to continue to be appealing to Millennials.
When recruiting, publish success stories about young workers moving up the ranks. Are they site managers? Have they moved to office work? Millennials will feel security if others have succeeded before them.
Culture will also be a big issue. Because Millennials are more sensitive to political correctness, they don’t want to be associated with an industry they see as objectifying women. Emphasize that your company culture does not tolerate bullying in any form, and you’ll start to see Millennials turning more to your business.
Appeal to Millennial “Specialness”
There’s a stigma that Millennials believe they are all unique flowers—perhaps that’s why Time Magazine dubbed them “The Me Me Me Generation.” And to some extent this stereotype is true.
From a young age, Millennials’ Gen-X and Boomer parents doted on them constantly (think about the growth of “Mommy and Me” classes), which fed into political movements like No Child Left Behind and expanded student loan programs. Millennials do believe that they’re special. While this heightened self-worth may be grating to some employers, construction managers who refuse to treat Millennials as “special” will be rejected by young people in turn.
Companies who directly recruit on college and high school campuses have had a lot of success, particularly if the recruiter takes the time to have one-on-one meetings with potential hires. Millennials have little interest in flashy ads; it’s not tailored to them, so why should they care? And when it’s time to close the deal, the best companies bring on Millennials as if it’s an honor for Millennials to be coming on board to join the company, not the other way around. Be grateful for your Millennial hires and show it with welcoming parties and gifts. Make them feel special, wanted, and important.
Millennials seek out a workplace where they can find coaches and mentors, not bosses and managers. Make it easy for Millennials to approach their superiors with calls for advice, questions, and concerns about the company.
As Mike Rowe says, “We no longer equate dirt with success. But we should.” Well, there are three million jobs available in manual labor that no one seems to want. Make construction seem like the smart option where young people are celebrated, and more young workers will start to embrace the industry.
Have you had success recruiting Millennials? What techniques have you used? What makes working with Millennials challenging—or fun? Leave your answers in the comments below!
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