Articles written by guest contributors

Monroe Porter

Help Wanted
By Monroe Porter

Working class employment in the US is changing. My Dad was a carpenter and many of my friends’ parents worked in the trades or in a factory. However, the vast majority of middle-income parents today want their kids to go to a 4-year college and get a professional job, not work in the trades.

Today a college degree can cost well over 100k with student loans burying graduates in lingering debt. Yet millennials and others do not see the trades as an opportunity even if trade workers make more money and enjoy the work that they do.

Mathematical statistics suggest that the working class of tomorrow will be people of color. According to The Economic Policy Institute statistics, working class employees (those without a degree) made up 66.1% of the entire workforce. By 2032 the majority of the working class is projected to be people of color. While that seems like the distant future, it is only 10 years.

Also, remember much of this workforce is composed of women and traditionally the construction industry has not done that well when recruiting women. Competition for employees will continue to grow and be a major business issue for years to come. Your business employment practices must change or your company will have a painful future.

To make matters worse, we have an immigration system that doesn’t work. Plus, millennials seem to have little interest in entering the trades. So, what does all this mean? The working-class workforce of tomorrow will have a different look and feel. In the future you may have to look at new recruiting avenues, hire bi-lingual project managers, etc. One thing for sure, you will have to be more aggressive regarding recruiting and maintaining your workforce.

Attract people by being the best
Be the best employer in your trade in your area. Stop saying and thinking things like, “Well, I pay equal to my top competitors.” See this as an opportunity to get ahead of your competition, not match them. Pay above the top of the market. Remember, you don’t control wages, the marketplace does. I know a local business that is advertising $14 an hour and the theme park just announced they are hiring at $16 an hour plus benefits. Let’s see, I can nail shingles for $2 an hour less than I can make working in a theme park. Hmmmm where do I sign up?

Pay higher starting wages. Folks that do not go to college or that drop out are prime employment prospects. Many are confused and not sure what they want to do for a living. Some work at various retail, food, or other entry level jobs. To compete you need to pay higher than your local wage entry point.

That wage will vary by region and location. If someone’s friends are making $15 and you start folks at $17or $18, your entry level people will advertise for you. Paying more to start can help you find long-term employees.

Be ruthless; reward winners
Even though the hiring market is tough, you still need to hold people accountable once hired. Be ruthless and do not keep people who are not willing to show up, work hard and learn. Keep looking for the good seeds of your future. Much of contracting is repetitive and can be learned quickly by the right person.

As an employee’s skill and pay grows, so does his or her life commitment. With rent due, a baby on the way, a car payment, etc., it is hard for someone to just suddenly stop their career and learn something new. Maybe the employee was going to be a professional baseball player or rocket scientist, but the reality of life has locked his or her career into the trades. Put rising stars on a fast track. Recruit talent, teach skills, pay well.

Get serious about recruiting
Does your recruiting budget match your sales/advertising budget? If an employee brings in $30,000 a year in gross profit, a capacity shortage immediately impacts the bottom line. Yet many contractors spend $1,000 or less in recruiting ads and wonder why they cannot find anyone. How much are you willing to spend to earn another $30,000 a year? Social and economic attitudes toward physical labor have changed. Yet many employers have not.

If you saw a $100 bill laying on the sidewalk, you would quickly bend over and pick it up. If a valuable employee contacts your office or sends a resume, you must quickly pick them up. Frequently he or she will have a job within 24 hours. Too many contractors are too busy doing other things and the admin staff is too slow to react to prime employee prospects.

Times have changed. Times will continue to change. You must change with it or get left behind. The challenge of the coming decade is finding and maintaining a field workforce. This problem is not going away quickly, and you must adapt. It is not your Dad or Grandpa’s workplace anymore.

Monroe Porter and PROOF Management offer business consulting through industry networking groups and he can be reached at (804) 267-1688.

Digital Edition
June/July 2023