How to Find Skilled Labor
With a little effort, you can find good, dependable employees and trade contractors to uphold the quality your company is known for.
The construction industry’s labor crunch is nothing new. After all, housing’s still booming, and so is production. Meanwhile, many young people are opting for careers in industries like finance or IT—a trend that began several years ago—instead of going into the building trades. “They all want to make a lot of money fast,” is a frequent complaint from builders.
However, there are some effective, innovative ways to look for labor that may be new to you. Try the following tips from home builders and other industry professionals.
Get involved in your local HBA and ask about its associate members. “This helps you find out who the better suppliers and trade contractors are,” says Dave Stormont, president of Stormont & Co., in Kitty Hawk, NC. “You can then approach those trades directly.”
To make it easier to meet them, “Find out where all the trades eat breakfast and lunch and go join them,” recommends Larry Johnson, who heads up Larry T. Johnson Construction in Hattiesburg, MS.
Another source for labor leads is to confer with salespeople who work at your local supply house. “They know who the good folks and the bad folks are,” says Stormont.
You may be one of the first to learn about the good folks. “Some of the skilled trade contractors the suppliers know are not currently working in the residential construction industry—perhaps because they don’t know how to bid jobs—but they would be good at it,” says David Swift, a vice president at HomeSphere in Golden, CO.
If you’re looking for a superintendent, your trade contractor may know a builder or remodeler who has excellent skills and is tired of running a business. That’s how Todd Slyman, vice president of Slyman Construction Co., in Huntsville, AL, found out about a great new hire. “I asked one of my trade contractors and he recommended a guy I’m about to bring on board,” says the builder.
Take Advantage of Training
Tony Zimbelman, owner and general manager of Zimbelman Construction, LLC, in Wichita, KS, has hired students from carpentry training programs in vocational schools. “Make sure you talk to the instructors to get the best students available,” the builder advises. “We usually have to train them to do what we want, but at least they have a basic knowledge of a construction site, tools, etc.” Zimbelman generally starts the students out with his framing contractor.
Home Builders Institute (HBI), NAHB’s workforce development division, offers training to students enrolled in the Department of Labor’s Job Corps program. To find skilled graduates in your area, check out the Job Corps page on HBI’s Web site. The “Hire a Job Corps Graduate” link connects to a map that’s searchable by state. You’ll find out which building trades graduates have trained in, and get contact information for local placement coordinators.
A $4.3 million grant will help increase the pool of skilled workers for the building trades through NAHB-affiliated programs. The money was awarded to HBI by Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao during the 2004 Fall Board of Directors Meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
The grant will fund the development of a series of building trade training curricula—from entry-level training, through apprenticeship, to an associate in applied science degree. HBI will partner with the American Association of Community Colleges, local HBAs, and educational institutions.
Seven years ago, the Utah Valley Home Builders Association, in cooperation with the local technical school and two local school districts, brought in high-risk high school students (those who were bored with school and considering dropping out) to help build homes and learn the trades.
The program, dubbed Building Youth Institute (BYI), is still going strong. There’s an expert journeyman on every home site for quality control, and the student-built homes sell well. BYI helps students realize they don’t have to drop out of school, and that they can learn a trade and make money. Three school districts are now involved in the program, which is self-funding.
“Parents have told us that the program has essentially saved their students’ lives,” says Brad Simons, vice president and associate broker at Cottage Homes in Draper, UT, who provided plans and assistance for BYI. The program also has beefed up the local labor pool.
If you’d like to start a similar program in your area, read the Project CRAFT fact sheet available from HBI.
Ask the Right Questions
Once a lead turns up some likely prospects, you need to winnow them to find the good ones. Don’t think that you can’t be choosy given today’s job market. You can—and you should—pick your employees and trade contractors as carefully as you select building materials. To maintain the quality of the homes you build, you likewise need to hire quality people.
Here’s a question to start with:
- What other local builders have you worked for in the area?
“This is one of my initial questions when I interview a possible new trade contractor,” says Stormont. “Chances are I’ll know a couple of those builders. I’ll call them and check the guy out regarding quality, dependability, integrity, etc. I put a lot of weight on what my fellow builder has to say.”
These requests and questions can help you gauge how someone would perform on the job:
- Please describe the worst situation you ever had to fix on a jobsite. How did you rectify the situation?
- What was the first/last job you worked on? What did you learn from this experience?
- Tell me about an ideal job you worked on.
- Tell me about your average project. How long would it take? Who did you report to?
Ask this question as part of your reference check:
- Would you hire this person again?
“If the reference says ‘yes,’ you might have a decent employee or trade contractor on your hands,” Zimbelman says. “If they say ‘no,’ they will usually follow up with several reasons why.”
Hiring and Training Resources
Selecting the right people for the right jobs goes a long way towards boosting company profitability and increasing employee productivity and retention. With 40 job descriptions for home building industry employees, Job Descriptions for the Home Building Industry, Third Edition, will help you do that. Special features in this new edition include: 12 new job descriptions, sample job description and other forms; detailed lists of legal questions and items that are illegal to ask job candidates; and electronic job descriptions and forms on CD to download and customize for your business. Call 800-223-2665 or go to BuilderBooks.com to order this publication now.
Do you have a promising superintendent who could use some more training? Send him or her to HBI’s Residential Construction Academy. Students take classes at local HBAs. They receive a Residential Construction Superintendent (RCS) designation after mastering the following core competencies:
- General project management
- Planning and scheduling
- Budget management and cost control
- Customer service and homeowner relations
- Safety and security
- Codes and quality control
- Hiring, training, and supervision
- Office and subcontractor relations.
For a course schedule and other details, visit the RCS Web site. You can also contact program specialist Joseph Krinock at 800-795-7955, x8928.