The ongoing economic recession has accelerated some already troubling trends in the labor market, putting pressure on contractors to do more with less in light of surging demand.
Even before the pandemic, contractors struggled to find enough skilled workers to fill available roles or retain the ones they had. This has forced many companies to think outside the box to ensure they have enough workers to deliver projects on time and under budget.
Tips to Securing Labor in a Tough Market
Partner with Your Competition
The labor shortage affects every contractor. Consider a “borrow or loan” arrangement with your competitors. For St. Paul, Minnesota-based Timberland Exteriors, it’s given them some much-needed breathing room when it comes to meeting labor needs. Timberland Exteriors has been in the roofing and siding business for more than two decades, opening a second office in Northwest Minnesota 10 years ago.
CEO Paul Trautmann says when they’re on a project where they quickly need additional labor, they’ve been able to lean on close relationships and provide labor hours for workers their competitors may not have jobs for. And at other times, he’s been able to help out a competitor and keep his crews busy.
Manage Customer Expectations
The constrained labor market has inevitably caused some project slowdowns, which requires careful expectations managing upfront. Tratumann is appealing to customers for some good old-fashioned human understanding.
“We try to encourage patience in our homeowners. Explain to them that this is worth waiting for, so be patient on what your experience is going to be. Sometimes it might take a little longer for us to get there,” he says.
Retain, Train and Upskill the Workers You Already Have
Fewer people entering construction trades has only made it more challenging to find experienced workers ready for leadership roles. In response, some trades are shifting focus to build up their most important assets: The laborers they’ve already got.
James Freeman, CEO of residential home remodeler PJ Fitzpatrick is focused on reskilling or upskilling their existing workforce. Even launching PJ University, a professional development program geared towards preparing their employees for new and different roles. PJ University includes multitrack leadership, technical, and corporate programs, all designed to help the residential contractor put the right people in the right positions, and ensure they’re ready to hit the ground running. Freeman says this has become a necessity in a rapidly changing world.
“The way we trained and educated and built our teams in the past have not been conducive to supporting what’s necessary in the market today. So we’re leaning into education and developing our own talent, whether it be the people to perform the work or people to guide those people in the future,” says Freeman. “For us, the people have been the focus because that is within our control.”
Open Channels of Communication
In the wake of the recession, contractors have often lamented the lack of control around things like interest rates, how many homes will be built this year, or even the state of consumer spending. For James Hardie, a global building materials manufacturer, one way they’ve been able to help contractors regain some semblance of control is by doing all they can to figure out what their customers need to achieve their project goals.
“Where we’re focused this year is working directly with contractors, understanding what their needs are, helping find the right solutions to help them navigate the waters and achieve their goals nonetheless,” says Marc Setty, Director of the Remodeling Segment for James Hardie Building Products.
For even more insights on how leading residential contractors are not just surviving the new normal, but thriving in it, watch our free webinar, Recession-Proofing Your Business.