First Word: Answering the call

|  January 31, 2008 |

Despite the housing slump, many sectors of the construction industry are facing a labor shortage likely to worsen significantly. Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, says as many as 400,000 residential construction workers have switched to the nonresidential sector, resulting in nonresidential job gains of 10 percent over the past year.

According to the U.S. Labor Statistics Bureau, nearly 500,000 more construction workers will be needed in 2016 than there were in 2006. At the same time, baby boomers will begin exiting the workforce in droves. This isn’t a good scenario for an industry having difficulty enticing young workers.

So what’s the solution? One excellent labor pipeline that’s been underutilized is the U.S. military. Each year, 250,000 veterans transition out of the military, according to Military.com, a networking site owned by Monster, and many have skills that translate well into a construction environment.

One million veterans per month look for jobs through Military.com, and you can participate in the job board for a small fee, says Tom Aiello, vice president of marketing for the company. Military.com also hosts career fairs in major cities across the country every year (a 2008 schedule is available on their website). Your local Career One-Stop center is another place you can look for ex-military job seekers. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Career One-Stop centers specialize in matching military experience to civilian occupations, and their services are free.

A recent Military.com survey revealed that while 60 percent of employers have favorable attitudes toward hiring veterans, several barriers make the practice difficult. Sixty-one percent of hiring managers reported they don’t have a complete understanding of the qualifications ex-service members offer. Because military resumés often include jargon and an unfamiliar set of experiences, analyzing them can be tough for someone who hasn’t been in the service, Aiello says. He recommends asking a veteran to help you interpret resumés or using Military.com’s skills translator, which allows you to enter a military job title and see a list of corresponding civilian jobs.

While your ideal ex-military job candidate will have experience operating equipment or building roads and bridges, Aiello says you shouldn’t discount applicants who don’t have obvious construction-related experience. Intangible skills that aren’t on a resumé can be as important as those that are. Intangible qualities most ex-service members possess include maturity, accountability, punctuality, teamwork and an ability to train quickly. “Cast a wide net at first,” Aiello says. “Go after quality people and train them for the skills you need them to have.”

Marketing your business as a military-friendly employer doesn’t cost much, and the return on investment can be well worth the effort. If you already employ a veteran, offer him or her a small finder’s fee for bringing other veterans into the company. Add a message such as “We proudly hire veterans” to your company’s website and flyers.

In a perfect world, there would be plenty of candidates trained specifically for the jobs your company offers. But that’s never been the case and is even less likely in the future. During the next decade, you’ll probably find yourself doing more on-the-job training. If you’re struggling to find qualified employees, try recruiting people leaving the military. You might be pleasantly surprised to see those who “answer the call.”

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