ExakTime is thrilled to announce the winner of our Fall 2017 ExakTime Scholarship essay contest: India LaPalme of University of Montevallo in Alabama.

Our second $1,000 scholarship contest received several dozen entries this year. This was the essay prompt:

Construction companies are facing a major labor shortage across the U.S. after a large number skilled workers left the trade or retired during the economic downturn. Many companies now report that it is very difficult to find skilled workers.

How do you think construction (i.e. home building, roofing, demolition, remodeling, flooring, concrete, etc.) businesses can attract more young people to the trade?

An entering freshman and elementary education major, Ms. LaPalme advises construction companies to emphasize use of technology on the job when seeking Millennials:

As with any profession, popular perceptions of the construction trade play a major part in attracting—or repelling—young workers. Unfortunately, young adults today fail to recognize the rewarding career path offered by the building trade; rather, they view construction as a difficult, demanding, and even demeaning job. Misgivings and misperceptions about what a skilled-labor career path looks like and what it yields in terms of a gratifying livelihood are at the core of the challenge of attracting more young people to the field (builderonline.com).

For example, companies can promote technology when pitching construction jobs to young people, helping to combat the widespread notion that construction work is strictly low-tech and physical. Studies have shown that—more than wages and salary, flexible work days and other job satisfaction parameters—technology can be a trump card in gaining the attention of young people, cultivating their interest in construction field positions and counteracting preconceived views of the building trade (coaa.org).

Hence, businesses recruiting young workers should focus on the benefits of being in the construction trade with an emphasis on the technology they use. For example, they can post pictures of employees using lasers, tablets, CAD software, and other industry-related technology online, or set up a social media-focused recruiting team that reaches out to young people via sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, recruiting for the firm and integrating photos of the technology the firm uses into their tweets and posts (coaa.org).

Ms. LaPalme also discusses construction companies changing their cultures, so that employees feel that they have room to be themselves and that their contributions will be valued:

Instead of emphasizing “putting your head down, and your time in”, businesses should build a culture of learning, training, and teamwork among workers; this is what retains seasoned employees and engages those just entering the workforce.

Though the daily reality of construction is not glamorous, it does not—and should not—have to be governed according to the outdated model of “top-down” managers, stern taskmasters who perpetually press workers for more results; in fact, it is critical for firms hoping to attract young people to abandon this way of thinking altogether.

Instead, businesses, and construction foremen in particular, must adopt a more modern model: devoting their resources to training workers rather than extracting as much labor as possible from them. For only by equipping employees with the necessary skills for success can they create a culture that promotes corporate and individual growth—an environment where workers of all ages will thrive.

In addition, it is important for firms to remember that young people come to work with a different mindset than those of prior generations. The key is to shape a company culture that allows for a measure of flexibility and independence on the part of employees (coaa.org).