Beyond the challenge of ‘good help is hard to find’

Four ways to support the construction industry, reduce senseless disconnect and strengthen your own team

George Schmidt

Before the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a commonly noted long-term challenge facing our industry was eventually replacing the knowledge, skills and experience of the baby-boom generation. The Great Recession did not remove this demographic challenge.

Recession and other changes in our world have only brought a long-term challenge to our doorstep as a near and clear problem for the continuing growth, health and sustainability of our industry. As jobs became scarce through the economic crisis, the image of construction as a career path took a hard hit compared to other fields often perceived – perhaps inaccurately – as more stable, secure or financially rewarding. Additionally, investment by our educational system in vocational and skills training has dwindled under strained budgets, the perceived value of college preparation and increasing importance of technology acumen.

Construction as a profession or vocation uniquely provides opportunity for individuals with any level of formal education. An individual can apply talents and acquired skills in countless specific ways. Increasingly, construction utilizes advanced technology more than most comprehend. Construction pays better than many other occupations, with those skilled in the trades and crafts often earning more than those more formally educated. Our industry represents diversity and provides opportunity in ways other fields fail to match.

Nevertheless, our companies often strain to fill positions while countless individuals (especially young people) remain jobless – a seemingly senseless disconnect. As a local contractor working in a very competitive industry, helping solve such systemic issues often seems very remote from the urgent priorities of the day, such as finding the qualified person to help now. Construction is a uniquely local industry though.

These practical actions can support our industry, help reduce the senseless disconnect and strengthen your own team:

Understand that all industries and businesses face the same challenge. Provide a work experience to compete within the industry as well as with what other fields can provide. Take note of “best companies to work for” lists both locally and nationally and the correlation between their employee experience and financial performance. Be among the few that find the most creative and successful solutions.

Invest in the training and development of your current team. Anticipate the need to advance your current team to offset the labor challenge. Since 1998, Fortune 500 companies have increased training for both managers and hourly or administrative personnel by approximately 80 percent. What do they know? Consider how that investment contributes to your team’s competency, growth and engagement; attracts other potential quality employees; and improves your bottom line long term.

Connect and partner with local initiatives to provide training opportunities and to connect employers with potential employees. As economic conditions have improved, others are increasingly recognizing the labor challenges for our industry and the employment opportunities herein. Local school districts and colleges are undertaking training initiatives and other publically-funded workforce development programs are increasingly focused on our industry. Our local construction industry will benefit most with broad-based active support and participation by employers. Your team will directly benefit if you connect with them.

Let your light shine. Construction is the backbone of our communities and is driven by the best and brightest. Continue the many community-minded actions the Southwest Washington Contractors Association membership often demonstrates. When you have the chance to represent the great qualities of our industry, educate or mentor someone, or provide an opportunity, take advantage.

Nearly every challenge brings with it opportunity. Most importantly, consider what action – large or small – you can undertake today toward strengthening and building your team for tomorrow’s opportunities.

George Schmidt is the vice president of Battle Ground-based 3 Kings Environmental Inc. He can be reached at

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