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We urgently need more construction workers – but a war of wages just won’t cut it

By Ian Barrow, Senior Employee Experience Consultant at WorkBuzz – this article first appeared in Construction News.

Salary is the easiest tool to harness when attracting talent, but a high pay packet simply won’t retain a workforce in the long run.

We know the construction industry outlook is challenging. The workforce is ageing and there’s a shortfall in experienced trades and labour. Organisations are faced with the ongoing challenge of how to recruit and retain their workforce, especially with competition being so fierce.

The construction industry isn’t blind to its issues and recognises that workers are looking elsewhere for work, including migrating to other industries which offer greater stability.

Faced with this ageing workforce and an urgent skills shortage, construction leaders are keen to attract as many new faces into the industry as possible and importantly, retain them. But how?

Listen, then act

Well, not by competing on salary for starters. The construction industry remains one of the highest paying sectors in the UK, with the average salary at £45,000 – an incredible 33% than the UK average.

And, while some entry-level salaries could benefit from an uplift, if firms start competing on salary alone to attract new workers, this will likely increase rather than reduce staff attrition – workers will simply jump from one company to another in search of the highest wage. So they must refrain from entering into a war of wages.

The reasons workers are attracted to a particular company – and then choose to stay – are far more complex than what’s in each month’s pay packet, from quality of leadership through to their sense of belonging. However, to determine what’s important to your people, you need to ask them – and, importantly, you need to act on what they say.

This might sound simple, but it’s obviously not as easy as calling a meeting and asking everyone what they want. For a start, there are ten key factors that impact employee engagement, and it’s important to find out what your employees think and how they feel in relation to each of them.

These include: the quality of senior leadership; growth opportunities; teamwork; direct manager relationships; flexible working (is it even an option?); empowerment; reward and recognition; wellbeing; diversity and inclusion; and organisational purpose.

Finding out what your employees think about all these fundamental elements requires the collection and interpretation of data, which can then be turned into concrete action so your organisation becomes a magnetic place to work. And such a task requires engagement software that’s been designed to capture and analyse information from deskless workers.

Ideally, the engagement software will send regular surveys to all workers at different points in the employee lifecycle, from their onboarding period right through to their exit. It must also be capable of sending out regular ‘pulse surveys’, which temperature-check employee sentiment. Always short and snappy, such surveys must be easily accessible to all – whether they’re at a desk or on their mobile device.

The outcome will be a holistic view of what’s important to your workers, and what is and isn’t working. For instance, if a large section of the workforce is feeling unappreciated and taken for granted, an action plan can be put in place on how to improve this – such as the introduction of a reward and recognition initiative. Similarly, if people feel they have few opportunities for career growth, a training and development programme may help to turn things around.

Ultimately, the only way construction companies are going to attract and retain new and diverse workers is to make their organisation attractive to all. The culture needs to be inviting and inclusive, with plenty of opportunities for people to develop and shine, and everyone must feel part of an organisation that cares about them as individuals.

Making this a reality means drilling into the existing culture and recognising what is and isn’t working, through an ‘active listening’ survey-based approach. By having this real understanding of your people rather than basing decisions on assumptions and theories, you can bring about real cultural change that makes your company an appealing destination for all.

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