If you're looking for good help, keep it all in the family.

Good help always has been hard to find and keep. We have experienced many ups and downs in this great construction industry, from the zero economy of the Depression to the boom times during and after World War II. These ongoing economy shifts continue with every ripple in local and national markets.

Unfortunately, too many contractors are not taking advantage of today's boom-time labor shortage. Last month's column addressed profit-oriented marketing and how to choose the right jobs and customers. We now are going to look at choosing and keeping the right employees to assure a critical quality-on-schedule, profit-producing reputation.

We will not cover everything you need to do in this one column, but my book, "Born To Build," deals specifically with one basic solution for finding good help: Follow the bloodlines - it's in the genes.

Having worked with thousands of skilled, quality workers has taught me, and continuously proves that, the great ones are gifted with born-to-build genes. We diligently tried to recruit the offspring of every good craftsman, and our success ratio was well worth the effort.

Naturally we did not get all of our employees' children, nor did all of the ones we hired make the grade. But the mere fact we were interested in their offspring was appreciated greatly and added to the critical pride of the craftsman.

In addition to pursuing our employees' kin, we also asked pertinent questions in our job interviews to help identify God-given ability and potential:

  • What kind of work did your parents and grandparents do?
  • Have they built their own homes, barns, etc.?
  • Do they fix most things that are broken?
  • Are they do-it-yourselfers?
Specific answers to these questions were always useful, but the revealing discussions that followed were even more helpful. The fact that their families were involved in building did not mean they inherited those genes. Conversely, even if no one in the family ever built or fixed anything, it did not mean the interviewee was unable to do so himself. But the odds were definitely in favor of those with the bloodlines.

The Hunt Is On

The basic theme of my book compares the God-given ability of an untrained beagle to sniff out and track a rabbit to the intelligence and ability of a craftsman. You simply need to identify these traits and provide the opportunity to let that dog hunt. Or, give that natural craftsman a chance to build.

Back in the good old days, there was never a problem attracting young craftsmen because our construction industry provided a proud, high-paying career for anyone good enough and tough enough to make it. For a dozen stupid reasons, we no longer maintain that proud image, and we certainly aren't attracting those proud and talented craftsmen. This is still a fantastic career for proud people, but they just don't know it.

Let me share some of the tricks of the trade we've used over the years that will give your born-to-build beagles a chance to hunt.

Begin by discussing your employees' relatives. Find out what they are doing and what they like to do. Maybe they would be interested in moonlighting evenings or weekends. How about retired or semiretired friends or relatives interested in Green and Gold mentoring programs? Pursue this same line of discussion with outsiders at your jobsite or social and sporting events.

You will be pleasantly amazed at the responses you receive, along with how fast word will spread. All you need to do now is give them a taste of something good that will make them want to come back for more.

Of prime importance, the workers you really want are proud. You need to respect that and nurture it. They want to take home a bragging paycheck, but they are not looking for charity. They want to earn that money, as well as the respect of you and their peers.

Do not make them do menial tasks and grunt work for minimum wage. Select projects where they can use their limited or specialized training. Provide after-hours training and task certification so they know what to do and how to do it. A mentor can assure their confidence and give additional guidance. Give flextime opportunities where it is practical and permissible.

Demand quality, measure productivity, keep score and reward accordingly. You have many options, but piecework is the simplest, easiest and most fair to the company and employee. Treat an employee as a proud craftsman and he will become one.

Take another look at all these suggestions and then think about the millions of potentially good employees whose first taste of construction certainly did not create a desire to come back for more.

The Savings

Think about the cost of implementing these ideas compared to the cost of not using them. That's the reasoning we use to make profit-oriented business decisions.

Do not overlook the additional drawing power created by positive bragging ambassadors. When your proud employees brag to their friends, relatives and peers about their accelerated accomplishments and respect for your company, your labor shortage is over. Having an ample supply of employees is always good, but when our economy is booming, it's a fantastic profit dream come true.