Five Ways Construction Companies Can Attract and Retain the Best Employees

Emily Peiffer

Emily Peiffer is the Associate Editor of Industry Dive’s Construction Dive publication. Before joining Industry Dive, Ms. Peiffer worked for Lancaster Newspapers and Science & Diplomacy under the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She can be reached at

December 1, 2017

Construction is facing a severe skills shortage at all levels of the industry. According to a survey by Building Design + Construction, the lack of experienced professionals and project managers is creating a hiring crisis that has “stymied” architecture/engineering/construction firms in the United States.

The labor shortage was a common conversation subject during last year’s Associated General Contractors Convention (AGC) in San Antonio, Texas. Ken Simonson, Chief Economist for the AGC, called the worker shortage “the biggest financial challenge for firms” during a session.

In order to stand out from competitors and win what Brent Darnell called “the war for talent,” construction companies need to take an introspective look at their recruiting and retention practices, according to experts at the convention.

Darnell—whose company Brent Darnell International teaches emotional intelligence to the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry—and other panelists highlighted several ways for employers to find the best talent and create a highly engaged and happy workforce. They emphasized that if companies employ these practices and create a better environment for employees, those firms will be able to battle the negative effects of the worker shortage and take on more projects—and, in turn, increase profitability.

1. Provide autonomy

Darnell pointed to the nature of many employers in construction as one of its pitfalls in this area. “This industry is very controlling, high problem-solving, and low flexibility,” he said. “These people have a hard time delegating and letting go of that control.”

Methods to minimize micromanagement and offer more autonomy include listening to employees’ goals and needs, being open-minded to other ways of completing a task, having patience for mistakes, and cultivating a “yes… and” mentality, Darnell said.

He added that creating this sense of autonomy in a job is especially crucial for reaching Millennial workers, who have proven to be the most difficult  group to attract. “Millennials want to create their own stuff. You need younger people coming in. There aren’t a lot around now,” he said.

2. Improve diversity

A prominent issue discussed during the convention was the lack of diversity in construction. Panelists encouraged companies to consider the positive results that could stem from raising the representation of women and minorities in the industry. They said a more diverse workforce would have the effect of attracting workers to construction at a time when the industry desperately needs more people.

“Studies show that diversity increases innovation. It increases the ability to attract and retain quality people. People want to work in places where they can see themselves. They want to see there’s someone there that relates to them, and that they can relate to,” said Martha Abbott, of architecture firm SmithGroupJJR.

Debra Nelson, of Brasfield & Gorrie, explained that in a time when the industry is struggling to attract workers, and especially younger ones, increasing diversity is one of the most significant steps companies can take. “If we strive to create diversity of thought, will we not make our workplaces more attractive to people who look and think differently? Could that not lead to greater success? At the end of the day, we want to outperform and outthink the competition,” she said.

To increase diversity in the workplace, the panelists advised that companies form diversity steering committees, perform culture audits or surveys of the staff, and raise awareness of the issue throughout all levels of the firm.

“It matters right now because they’re not here, and we’re keeping them away,” Darnell said. “They’re not coming for a reason.”

3. Encourage mastery

Darnell emphasized the need for companies to provide employees with the opportunities to continue learning and to master their craft. “Training is vital,” he said.

One of the most effective ways to accomplish this goal comes with leadership programs, according to Randy Hall, President and CEO of Batson-Cook Construction. “Coming out of the recession, we realized we needed more structure for leaders,” he said. “Leadership is much more than being a good project manager. We’ll cross-train people and show them parts of the business they might not see. Then in 10 years, we’ll have a pool of leaders we could pull from.”

Darnell added that in companies that promote leadership tracks or programs, employees strive to be chosen for those programs, and it creates a sense of honor for workers. “They’ve been chosen as a future leader. It becomes an intrinsic motivation,” he said.

4. Reinforce a sense of purpose

One way to improve retention and keep employees happy with their jobs is to clearly define a purpose and continuously reinforce that purpose, according to Darnell.

“The projects you create every day are miracles, but we don’t convey that. It’s become a drudge. It’s become adversarial,” he said.

Darnell added that clearly explaining a project’s purpose—such as holding a meeting for employees with the future tenants of a hospital, or teachers of a school—people will better understand why they are working toward this goal.

“If you don’t articulate that, especially to young people, they won’t want to work for your company,”  he said. And providing younger employees with that sense of pride, Darnell added, is one of the most effective ways to attract them and keep them happy with a company.

5. Help improve the lives of employees

While Darnell acknowledged this goal can be the most difficult to achieve, he said it can also have the biggest impact for employee retention.

“If you make someone’s life better, why would they ever consider working somewhere else?” He asked.

He cited health and wellness programs, which are a growing trend across all industries, as one of the key ways for companies to help improve the lives of employees.

Hall added that encouraging employees to speak up when they have family obligations or are struggling to deal with busy travel schedules creates a sense of trust and respect between the employer and employee.

Darnell added that overall, construction companies should work to bring humanity back to the industry. “After all, human beings build projects,” he said.



This content was reprinted with permission from ConstructionDIVE and is also available at

Copyright Statement

This article was published in the December 2017 issue of Insulation Outlook magazine. Copyright © 2017 National Insulation Association. All rights reserved. The contents of this website and Insulation Outlook magazine may not be reproduced in any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of the publisher and NIA. Any unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited and would violate NIA’s copyright and may violate other copyright agreements that NIA has with authors and partners. Contact to reprint or reproduce this content.


Related Articles

How HR Can Promote Flexibility in Blue-Collar Jobs

When Rachael Sobon, SHRM-CP, started her job as the first human resources (HR) professional at CRP Industries 10 years ago, she quickly saw room for improvement. Sobon understood that the daily deadlines of a bustling warehouse required many of the Cranbury, New Jersey–based company’s 180 workers to be onsite at certain hours. However, she also Read Article

How to Get Younger Employees to Show Up, Pitch In, and Excel on the Job

Here is a scenario that may hit home: Your organization has taken great care in finding and hiring various promising young workers—but they are not showing up for work or you cannot retain them after you hire them. What is going on and what can you do about it? This article will look at how Read Article

Managing Millennials

How is it going managing today’s younger generation on the job? Figured out what to say to Millennials—the young folks up to their mid-20s in age? This month, let us take 3 areas that foremen say are not always easy to address with Millennials: being on time, meeting production schedules, and doing quality work. To Read Article

Millennials Want a Work-Life Balance—Their Bosses Just Don’t Get Why

Workers around the globe have been finding it harder to juggle the demands of work and the rest of life in the past 5 years, a new report shows, with many working longer hours, deciding to delay or forgo having children, discontinuing education, or struggling to pay tuition for their children. Why? A big reason Read Article

The 3 Ms of Recruiting Millennials—Change Your Recruitment Habits To Grab Today’s Top Young Workers

Having trouble finding and hiring candidates with the right skill set? You may want to consider broadening your scope to include younger prospects. This huge—and hugely promising—demographic could hold the key to your company’s short- and long-term success. The often-maligned Millennial generation (born 1977 to 1998) will inevitably become members and even leaders of your Read Article

Right Side Up is Upside Down: Reverse Mentoring From a Millennial’s Point of View

A subtle hint of “if only” lurks just beneath the surface for those who desire to see all generations empowered beyond the stereotypes. If only technology was not a burden for older generations but a vital resource. If only young people learned to master the social business savvy of older generations. If only it were possible to empower both the young and the old at the same time to become more productive, engaged, and innovative in the workplace. . . you can probably guess where I am going next. . . this is possible! Read Article

The Next Generation of Leaders: 10 Plus 1 Ways to Support Your Millennial Managers

This year marks a generational tipping point: by the end of 2014, 50% of the world’s employees will be those born after 1980. This huge percentage includes many supervisors and managers—more than you might expect, since Millennials are assuming leadership roles earlier than any generation in the United States to date. The leadership styles and Read Article