How to Use Mentoring to Attract and Keep Construction Talent

The construction industry is facing a labor crossroad. Baby boomers are starting to retire, and younger workers just aren’t choosing construction as a profession. In response, construction companies are helping vocational schools with recruitment, and the target audiences keep getting younger, including kids in elementary school.

Companies are also rolling out amenity and benefit programs in an effort to attract and retain the skilled workers that are becoming so limited in supply. According to an Associated General Contractors of America report earlier this year, 73 percent of contractors anticipate having to hire more workers this year, but the same number believe they'll have trouble finding them.

Enter the company mentoring program.

Greg Sizemore, the Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of environment, health, safety and workforce development, said mentoring programs attract and help retain employees who want to make the most out of their career — but how well they work depends on the program.

Sizemore said a successful mentoring program must contain three elements. First, it needs top-down support. Otherwise, he said, it will just be another "flavor of the month" initiative with little impact.

Next, program developers should establish fair and easily understandable criteria for participation, with people at all levels of the organization — new and existing employees alike — eligible for a slot as mentee.

Third, Sizemore said supervisors of the mentor-protégé relationships should be held accountable for the results achieved. "All too often," he said, "the supervisor is disengaged.  [He or she] makes a match with a mentor and then walks away for six months."

The supervisor must have a significant role in setting the objectives of the mentoring relationship and making sure both sides are living up to agreed-upon meeting times, as well as in ensuring that the match is a good one.

Sizemore said the mentoring program should include formal training. "You can't assume people know how to do this," he noted.

During their training, the mentor and mentee should decide how the program will best work for them, including what they can realistically expect from the relationship, basic guidelines for engagement and minimum time commitment. Sizemore said the parameters they develop should land somewhere between overly flexible and too rigid. Too loose, and the program's potential fizzles out. Too strict, he said, and they risk "choking" it to death.

Sizemore said many organizations have informal mentoring programs through which managers "stick the new person with a more senior person and hope someone gleans something from that experience.” That's not the way to achieve success, he said.

"In 15 years of [being in the] workforce development world, professional and craft, formal mentoring programs absolutely work."

 

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Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.