Everybody complains about the weather, but there’s not much we mortals can do to change it. Everybody complains about the current skilled labor shortage, too. We have plenty of work that is definitely increasing today’s bid prices. The bad news is our skilled labor shortage makes it very difficult to transform those good prices into bottom line profits. Unlike the weather, however, there is something positive we can do to change this.

We old-timers who were working after World War II and during those next two booming decades relied on “moonlighters” to get our jobs done on time. Fortunately that same solution that worked so well back in the “good old days” has become deja vu all over again.

But it is even better for today’s young workers since they have access to computerized bid data, critical path scheduling, cost-coded labor controls and data-based skills inventories. We used to struggle with handwritten ledger books and elusive memories about each individual employee’s ability, effort and availability.

Let’s start from scratch. When you’re awarded a job, your computerized estimate shows you exactly how many man-hours or man-days you will need to install each specific item. Your computerized project schedule also clearly shows you when each of those items will need to be installed. In addition, your critical path schedule shows you float time to allow you the opportunity to maintain a larger crew working on billable tasks.

This critical path schedule highlights those crucial heavy manpower requirements that could easily be resolved with some pre-fab, pre-assembly, bag and tag or other material handling shortcuts. I hope you already have a gold circle of retired or semi-retired craftsmen (aka, “moonlighters”) who can value-engineer that project and make all of those cost-saving recommendations.

Skills Inventory: Above all else, you need to establish a specific skill requirement list with actual dates very much like your buyout list for materials and equipment with definite jobsite delivery dates. Before you buy out any project, I’m sure your purchasing agent checks his or her computer to determine how much of that material is now in stock in your own yard or warehouse. Whatever is not in inventory gets obtained at the best price along with a guaranteed delivery commitment.

Why not use exactly the same method with your skilled labor requirements? If you’re a signatory union contractor, your first step should be to coordinate these specific needs with your local business manager. He can push those same little buttons on his computer to determine how many of those skilled tradesmen are going to be available when you need them.

If your needs are not in the union’s arsenal, they will have enough lead time to schedule some journeyman training classes so that you will have the specific skills you need. Or the union can also request travelers from other locals.

But the union’s most feasible solution is to use its retired and semi-retired “gold” members on a part-time or moonlighting basis. You can couple up these golden oldies with your green apprentices or pre-apprentices and be assured of good old-fashioned productivity and quality performance. These retired moonlighters are especially useful for pre-fab and pre-assembly offsite work. Do not overlook using these same golden moonlighters for your gold circle value-engineering team.

Open Shop: On the other hand, if you’re an open shop, you’ll have to recruit, hire or train whatever skilled tradesmen are not currently in your arsenal. Here again, you will need enough lead time to schedule some in-house task training. Or you may be able to recruit and hire the people you need. But the major problem with an open shop is that you will need enough work to keep them employed. Some of this can be accomplished with pre-fab and flat time work, but it may not be enough.

Unfortunately, open shop contractors don’t have easy access to all of the retired craftsmen living in their area. If that’s your case, you need to do some leg work to add local moonlighting potential to your skills arsenal.

But in addition to retired craftsmen, far more moonlighters live in your area than you will ever need. Placing a help wanted ad is an obvious way to find talent. But here are some other ways to add to your arsenal:

1. Ask your employees first! Most of you will be amazed and pleased by the office employees who would love to learn jobsite skills (and earn extra dollars doing it). You will also discover how many of your foremen, journeymen and apprentices want to learn estimating, CAD and project management. You can do in-company training and skill certification for those who need and want to learn additional skills, but using our “Green and Gold” buddy system provides instant know-how! Your employees can also spread the word about your “earning and learning” opportunity to the other trades working on your jobsites.

2. Go through your old payroll records and contact all the good employees who used to work for you. They also may have friends and relatives who would be interested in moonlighting.

3. Ask around local retirement centers and trailer parks, and put up posters on their bulletin boards.

4. Put those same posters in every votech school, adult education center and local college or university. These able-bodied students would love to earn that extra money, along with learning additional skills.

5. Professional firefighters, police, teachers, bus drivers and many factory workers who have odd shifts and extended vacation time are generally interested in moonlighting opportunities.

6. Go to your local DIY center and talk with their employees. Some of them may want those extra hours or know which customers do their own work.

All these ideas will require some leg work, but you can readily see how much potential is out there. When people tell you about those “good old days” you can rest assured of one basic fact: They would have been a lot better if we would have had access to today’s computers.