How to Recruit Local Workers for Large Projects

Big projects can require big recruiting efforts, both online and off.

It’s no secret the construction industry is in the throes of a labor shortage. Contractors are having difficulty staffing their current jobs, never mind a new project that could require dozens or hundreds — maybe even thousands — of additional workers.

Job fairs in the city or town in which the construction will take place is one popular way to attract those workers. In March 2016 — five months before crews would break ground — PCL Construction and the Los Angeles Soccer Club held a job fair to find enough workers to reach the estimated 1,200 total needed to complete the $350 million venue.

The challenge of finding a lot of skilled personnel in a relatively short period can be even harder on a government funded project, since special hiring requirements are often part of the deal. Failing to meet those requirements can result in hefty fines, as was the case when the city of Detroit fined contractors on the new Red Wings arena $500,000 for failing to meet a 51 percent local hiring requirement.

Unlike the Detroit contractors, Mortenson Construction, the general contractor for the Milwaukee Bucks new arena, used a fairly common vehicle to help them meet hiring requirements: a project labor agreement (PLA). Local trade unions are typically party to the contract, guaranteeing an uninterrupted supply of labor in return for prevailing wages and other benefits.

The Milwaukee Bucks also partnered with hiring platform SkillSmart to create a custom job-matching website (with its own URL), which SkillSmart said improves the hiring experience by matching skills to the right jobs rather than going through a time-consuming resume process. Purple Line Transit Partners, the consortium that will design, build and maintain the Purple Line light-rail project in the Washington, DC, suburbs of Maryland, has also turned to SkillSmart to help create its construction staffing website.

Whatever the method of recruitment, contractors today must realize they're in competition with other companies for available labor and be prepared to offer a competitive wage, as well as benefits, to attract the most highly skilled workers.