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The Subcontractor’s Guide to Beating the Construction Labor Shortage

Published: October 19, 2022
Last updated: May 31, 2024
Read time: 5 minutes


The words “labor” and “shortage” are inescapable in the construction industry lately. In 2021, the Associated Builders and Contractors Organization reported an additional 430,000 jobs needed to be filled to meet labor demands. This year, that number hiked up to… wait for it… 650,000. With a figure that can’t seem to stop growing, workers’ appetite for construction careers can’t seem to keep pace with the ravenous demand for labor. The industry is starved for workers, and it leaves some companies struggling to find talent. 

As a construction business owner, you may find yourself in that boat, wondering how to attract workers and renew the vitality of your company. In the service of answering that question, Billd gathered over twenty construction professionals at our latest Subcontractor Meetup. Luke Payne, Owner at Black Iron Dirt & Demolition, spearheaded the discussion, joined by Andee Hidalgo, Sarah Sagredo-Hammond and Ernie Adams who also contributed their perspectives. We’ll go over some of the key insights harvested in this meetup, so that you’re better equipped to handle a labor shortage that can’t be solved by simply tossing up a few Help Wanted signs.

Let’s explore how modern construction companies can go beyond salaries and traditional benefits to attract new workers and otherwise develop their workforce.

1. Turn Mistakes into Opportunities to Learn

Culture may not be the first thing you think of when trying to beat the construction labor shortage, but creating an inviting culture is crucial to attracting applicants. Luke Payne believes that mistakes are going to happen in any industry. It’s critical for leaders to let their team know that mistakes, to a degree, are expected and will be met with tolerance, not punishment. It plays into the notion of embracing “failure” as a valuable lesson in how not to do something. Lessons like that sharpen your employee and shouldn’t be looked down on. 

A tolerant culture not only breeds happier, more relaxed employees, it makes them better at their job. Payne explains that when you give employees more responsibility, where mistakes could possibly unfold, you’re also giving them the chance to rise to the occasion. The wrong people will weed themselves out, and the right people will persevere despite their missteps. 

Andee Hidalgo expanded on this, painting it as the importance of a warm and accepting culture. For her, that meant proudly adding a “No Assholes Policy” to her employee handbook, which everyone on her team was on board with. Furthermore, she encourages employees not to check in when they’re using PTO, unlike some companies that force employees to feel perpetually “plugged in” and on call. Employees should be able to feel like they can breathe. Andee credits this welcoming company culture as the reason why she was able to recruit an experienced superintendent who had spent 22 years at a larger national outfit. 

2. Embrace Social Media as Your Best Recruitment Tool

As a 26-year-old subcontractor, business social media came naturally to Payne, who was inclined to post and communicate with potential employees and customers. When asked how he sourced most of the candidates that form his team, he explained that many came to him – and continue to do so – from social media. So how can you cultivate a social media presence so inviting that job applicants come to you? 

Payne’s approach to social media is at once obvious and brilliant. At a high level, he simply posts “what he would want to see.” With ample videos of equipment, his business social media presence shows that the company invests in quality equipment. As a self-described gearhead, he loves perusing social media to see cool new equipment, and by posting that exact kind of content, he’s attracting like-minded men and women. 

On a technical level, you may be wondering more about the specifics of Payne’s social media presence and the kind of content that comprises it:

  • Those equipment videos? They’re shot and edited by a professional, which isn’t always as pricey as it sounds. It can be a sound investment if you really want to ramp up your social media. Users often pepper him with questions about the equipment, generating engagement and shares. For Payne, it’s worth it.
  • Beyond that, his account showcases pictures and videos that offer followers simple explanations of equipment and processes that they may find useful. He leads with value instead of self-promotion.
  • Payne is keen on showing his team’s achievements. If they finish a job quicker than the time allotted, he’ll happily applaud the team on social media. If a team member just bought a new house, he may just post about that too. The first thing potential employees see on his social accounts is his pride and care for his team. 
  • Jobsite videos are frequently found on Payne’s page. This gives followers a quick behind-the-scenes look at a given job and allows them to visualize what it would look like to work at Black iron Dirt.

He asserts that the biggest problem with traditional construction social media is taking too simple an approach. We’ve all seen the generic Merry Christmas post, emblazoned with a pixelated company logo. It offers nothing of value or interest to the follower, so why would they engage? This approach is missing a personal touch.

Where You Should Start With Your Social Media During the Construction Labor Shortage

Payne’s best tip is to find and delegate someone with a flair for social media to manage it. It doesn’t have to be someone younger necessarily, just someone who understands your core values and how social media ticks. 

In his opinion, there’s no such thing as too much posting. If people like your content, post more of it. Don’t limit yourself. He also heartily encourages interaction with followers. He’s always quick to like people’s comments, comment back and follow them. 

If and when applicants contact you from social media, you already have an excellent screening tool at your fingertips. A quick glance at their profile can help you get a sense of the person. From there, you can probe into their background, ambition and long term goals in follow up conversations. This also allows you to formulate a career path for them to help them meet these goals. 

While you’re building up that social media presence, other recruitment tools are always available to you throughout the construction labor shortage. Ernie Adams believes your people are your greatest recruiting asset. He advises you to lean on your superintendents and field workers to refer new employees. 

3. Use Thoughtful Gestures, Big and Small, as Recognition for Good Work

On top of a full benefits package, Payne goes out of his way to offer perks to employees. His higher-ups have their own work vehicle, and their gas is paid for, within reason. He has conversations with employees about their life goals and how the company can support them in their pursuit. 

This idea can apply to smaller gestures as well. Something as simple as buying a bag of sweets for everyone while you’re on an Office Max errand, or ordering pizza for everyone after a particularly long day, can make a huge difference in employee satisfaction. If an employee gets a flat on the job, consider paying for it on their behalf. Satisfied employees also, in a way, become assets for future recruitment. You want them to give a glowing review of the company if a potential hire asks their opinion. 

Everyone has different preferences in terms of how they’d like their employer to show that they care. Some people may want small gestures; some may want grand recognition. To help accommodate those nuances in personality, Sarah Sadrego-Hammond offers employees a personality test. This helps her discern how they think, how they like to work, how they like to be analyzed, whether they like a lot of attention and more.

Another avenue for employee recognition is, of course, well-deserved raises. Ernie Adams believes you can use raises to incentivize employees to develop more skills by attaining new certifications. Not only are you expanding employee training, you’re helping ensure that your wages are competitive enough to retain them.

4. Be Transparent to Encourage Employee Ownership

Some companies keep a lot under wraps and don’t share the hairy details of performance and vision with their employees. This is hardly the best strategy. When you publicize and share your company’s bigger picture with your employees, you help foster a sense of ownership in the company and where it’s headed. It’s the difference between: “This is where we’re going, do you want to go there with us?” and “Sit down and do XYZ task because you were told to.” It’s like letting your employees into the cockpit to see where the plane is headed. As passengers, wouldn’t they want to know? Let them know the direction of the company and where the next work is coming from. With that in mind, it’s not always good news, but it needs to be heard regardless. 

Salary bumps are far from the only strategy to attract new workers. In this day and age, workers expect digitally forward-thinking companies who are quick to innovate. It’s critical for employers to rise to the occasion with cultural and technological shifts that will meet this generation where they are. In case you missed our latest meetup and would like to hear more from Luke Payne on how he found and retained a team of hardworking, skilled 20-somethings, check out his appearance on the Built with Billd podcast.

About Billd: At Billd, we provide a payment solution that enables commercial construction contractors to free up cash for material purchases while enjoying the flexibility of 120-day payment terms. You get financing for commercial materials upfront with the freedom to pay it back at your own pace. Learn more about how we can help eliminate your company’s cash-flow problems so you can win more bids and grow your business.

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Jesse WeissburgCCO & Co-Founder of Billd

Jesse Weissburg is an accomplished business development leader with experience across a variety of industries — including finance, real estate development, construction and renewable energy. With Billd, he uses his experience and knowledge to help contractors grow their businesses by fixing the broken payment cycle in the construction industry.

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