“Our people are our greatest asset!” This often-heard statement has become little more than a tired cliché. While most business managers believe the principle to be true, few do much to build its value. It should, however, be a high priority for the construction industry, and you should be sure you are hiring the best people available. By choosing high quality people and building their capabilities, you will be investing in and enhancing the value of your greatest asset and the value of your company. Next month, I will offer some tools to help build the capabilities of the staff you already have.

Finding and keeping good employees is one of the greatest challenges the construction industry will face in coming decades—and faces even today. One factor working against the industry is the changing makeup of the workforce. The Census Bureau reports that between 2005 and 2010, the fastest growing age group will be workers over the age of 55. While this means that the ranks of experienced workers and managers will grow during this decade, the next group entering that age bracket will be smaller—and that decline will continue in the next generation. The number of young workers is also dwindling—especially those interested in entering the construction business. And yet, while the labor pool is shrinking, the economy will continue to add jobs requiring more qualified people.

Consequently, construction companies will experience more competition for the dwindling pool of qualified employees, particularly entry- and mid-level workers. Moreover, studies have shown that most young people have a negative perception of the construction industry, which will add to the challenge of attracting and hiring qualified people. The successful contractor will have to constantly recruit and find ways to attract good people.

To get the performance you need, you must first hire talented people who fit into your particular organization. When you identify a hiring need, you should determine what the individual must know to do the job. Some examples might include short-interval planning, construction Spanish, and leadership concepts.

Once you know what the successful candidate must possess, determine what specific skills are needed. For instance, should he or she know how to read blueprints, read and interpret job cost reports, or motivate employees? Once you have an itemized list of knowledge and skills, determine which items are mandatory and which are not. The longer the list of mandatory items you have, the longer you will search for the best candidate.

Next, determine the behavior you are seeking in this individual and what kind of performance you expect. Include characteristics such as ethical conduct, ability to get along with others, self-confidence, loyalty to subordinates, and tendency to be customer-focused. These behavioral characteristics may be difficult to spot, but most can be uncovered through honest, upfront conversation. When hiring, you must be clear with new employees and explain what you expect of them. This will get them started on the right foot so that they understand what their job is and how their performance will be rewarded.

These ideas alone will not bring scores of talented people to your doorstep. When used in conjunction with a formal recruiting and hiring process, though, they will improve your hiring decisions. Better hiring decisions lead to better qualified employees. Next month I will offer some pointers on building the capabilities of your current employees. After all, your employees are your greatest asset, so it makes sense to invest in them.

—Brian Moore is a consultant with FMI, Management Consultants to the Construction Industry. He works with contractors on in-depth market analysis, strategic and business planning, and market planning. Moore can be reached at 919-785-9269 or at bmoore@fminet.com.