The labor shortage is 2 million jobs deep and growing. It’s left thousands of subs in a shaky spot. Sure, it’s easy to say “You’re only as good as your team,” but with this much competition for quality labor, it’s hard to find a workable team, let alone a strong, motivated one. When your sales team sells a multimillion dollar job, you want to be revved up and ready to go knowing you have the team you need, not muttering a four-letter word.
So how do you not just survive, but thrive during a labor shortage and build a best-in-class team?
Billd asked Matt DiBara, CEO of the recruiting consultancy Contractor Consultants, to break down his proven tactics for finding and keeping star players in his own masonry company – all without having to raise wages. DiBara penned the first ever book on subcontractor recruiting, and created an extensive 63-module hiring course. In this article, we’ll explore the key insights and actionable takeaways from his presentation at Billd’s Subcontractor Meetup in June.
According to DiBara, the right team allows you to do things like:
- Guarantee completion dates
- Confidently take on more work
- Do better work on existing projects
- Have little to no productivity losses
- Drive client satisfaction
- Have more time to devote to other areas of the business
Now, here’s how to make this a reality:
1. Audit Your Current Team
Before you start recruiting new people, DiBara wants you to take a long hard look at your current team. “In a tight labor market, we want to optimize before we maximize, and make sure everyone is doing things hyper focused to their skill set. Otherwise, we’re wasting money,” he says.
Start by writing down each person on your team and what they’re doing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.
Are your site superintendents, estimators or foremen doing things that somebody else could do? For example, is your best (and highest paid) project manager making a Home Depot run when they should be putting together next week’s scope?
You may find that you need to reallocate job functions to free up your most important people to do more high level work.
By doing this before you start recruiting, it allows you to get crystal clear on what your current team’s job functions are and where they need more support.
DiBara says he used to want to hire people who “could do it all,” whose skills ran the gamut across countless aspects of masonry. But now he prioritizes specialization, and sees the value in not expecting his employees to be jacks of all trades and masters of none. Why spread someone thin across multiple job functions when you can let them excel at their specialty?
DiBara also believes that “High Pay = High Skill.” In other words, an employee’s pay should be directly proportional to the skill they bring to their position.
2. Work With Temp Labor Solutions
Temp labor companies can actually be great to have on deck while trying to build your team. Used strategically, you can leverage a temp company to improve your jobsite performance and maybe even source long term candidates. DiBara says the situations where you may want to tap a temp labor solution include but are not limited to:
- Seasonally: Demand can ebb and flow depending on your region and season. For example, if you’re on the east coast, you may want to fluctuate your labor force in accordance with snow and how it will affect your ability to work. A temp company can be very handy here.
- Extreme events: This captures a wide array of unforeseen events, but even if one guy gets sick and passes it to 8 other guys, you’ll want to have a relationship with a temp labor company.
Best practices when negotiating temp labor (that they don’t want you to know):
- Beat no-shows by overstaffing – If you need 5 guys for a job, request 8 from the temp company. This way, at least 4 or 5 show up. DiBara has seen this strategy be very effective in combating no-shows and short staffing.
- Beat poor productivity with a “Two Hour Guarantee” – If temp workers show up and are dragging their feet, clearly not committed to the job, it pays to have already negotiated a two hour guarantee with the temp company. This gives your foreman or super the ability to gauge performance for two hours, and send people home if they aren’t performing, at no charge to you.
It’s also worth noting that temp labor companies aren’t just hubs of unskilled labor; they often get skilled laborers applying from a variety of trades. This makes them a good resource to supplement both your skilled and unskilled labor needs.
3. Find People Who Will Deliver on Your Brand Promise
This is the hard part, right? Actually finding and hiring the right people. But DiBara has more than a few ideas:
Use Incentives for Talent Referrals:
He started with an anecdote about something powerful: incentives. He wants you to find incentives that actually work, not only for potential employees, but for people who could refer them to you. He recalled a time he was chatting with a man in a doctor’s office, who he noticed had a Dodgers keychain. He mentioned that he was hiring in his masonry business and asked whether the man knew anyone who may want to work with them, and the man shrugged it off.
But when DiBara mentioned that he was giving away a pair of Dodgers tickets with his next hire/referral, the man suddenly referred his nephew to a position. The nephew was hired the next day, and has been with DiBara since. For him, this crystallized the power of the right incentives for both your current employees and people you come into contact with. It doesn’t have to be sports tickets, it could be getaways or what have you, but you can and should use incentives to grow your team.
Use Incentives for Potential Candidates:
Incentives can help you tip the scale for a quality candidate who is weighing whether to work for you or another solid employer. To create incentives with broad appeal to any candidate, you could find ways to guarantee things like:
- Short commutes
- 1 free massage per month
- Four 10-hour work days instead of a five-day work week
There is no limit to what you could offer, if you think you could feasibly provide it. The goal is to make them go “Wow, I need to work for this company.” Research big companies and see what they do to incentivize employees. All of this helps your position stand out more from competitors without incentives.
Leverage Your Partners and Their Contacts:
Here’s the thing, you probably already have connections with organizations who could help you dramatically grow your team. It starts with sending an email to potentially get in front of thousands of candidates.
DiBara recommends the following sources:
- Schools & universities – DiBara says that schools especially can help you find hard-to-place project engineers, estimators, PMs and foremen
Steal this Playbook: For Vendor Outreach, Use Caffeine
DiBara has seen great success with something as simple as sponsoring coffee and donuts at a vendor’s busiest location and busiest time. In exchange, he gets to leave a small card on the table that says “We’re Hiring.” The result is that when a worker at a competitor picks up material at that supplier, he might grab a donut and see the card. If he’s dissatisfied with his current employer, he may just give DiBara a call. The point is – find where your potential employees are, and do what it takes to position your company front and center.
A clever way to find candidates is to target them in a similar way you would your customers. That can include targeted, geographically specific advertisements. DiBara recommends creating ads designed to run with specific geographic and timing parameters. This could target things like industry events where techs get trained, so that when they’re on break, they see your hiring ad on their phone. Again, find potential employees and get in front of them, this time, digitally. You’d have to be strategic with the events or areas you geofence, and work with someone adept in paid advertising to help you set up those ads.
Make a Career Video:
Job descriptions are all the same, but a video that showcases you, your company, trucks, office, and values will help you truly stand apart in the noise. Invest in a well-produced video that captures your company, then include it in your job descriptions and other candidate communication. Include testimonials from employees who’ve worked with you. It could go a long way.
Find Your Rubber Chicken:
This one is metaphorical of course, but very culture-focused. The “rubber chicken,” which we’ll unpack, really applies to retention. It stems from the principle of incentivizing good behavior over punishing bad behavior.
At his masonry company, DiBara implemented a system where employees would get company-branded poker chips when they did something great. They could then redeem those poker chips and get to spin a wheel with a number of prizes up for grabs. One prize on the wheel was a gag gift – a rubber chicken – and to DiBara’s surprise, it became the most sought after prize on the wheel. The employees loved it. It became a badge of honor and a symbol for all that was unique and fun about DiBara’s company. What could your “rubber chicken” be?
You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, and that rings true on and off the jobsite. Quality work and high profits can’t be achieved without the right team, but with these tactics, you can flip the script on the labor shortage and turn hiring from a headache into your competitive advantage.