When I first began writing about the plumbing and heating industry in 1998, succession planning was an issue because many owners of contracting businesses weren’t looking ahead to retirement, especially those who owned smaller shops. Sometimes a younger generation was interested in getting into the family business. If that wasn’t an option, contractors who didn’t develop succession plans eventually sold their companies to roll-up corporations or franchise brands. And some went out of business.

Today, succession planning is still an issue, but more and more contractors are being proactive about getting the right people in place to take over their companies. Consulting firm FMI recently released a report on talent development in the construction industry. The 2013 U.S. Construction Industry Talent Development Report surveyed companies of all sizes and specialties, including mechanical and plumbing firms.

As Baby Boomers continue to retire, the report notes that more than 75% of respondents are preparing for a leadership transition by promoting internally, training to improve performance and providing internship and co-op programs. Efforts also are being made to retain the knowledge and skills of veteran executives, senior managers, field managers and project managers.

“More than half of the respondents are using internal knowledge networks to retain this information,” the report says. “Half of the companies are offering retiring employees part-time or temporary positions, followed by 46% that are offering contract or consulting work. This is great news for soon-to-be retirees who still want to remain active with their companies, just not on a full-time basis. And it benefits companies as well, as they can continue to tap into the knowledge and skills of these experienced employees.”

Almost 85% percent of the respondents have well-defined succession plans for executive leaders, followed by 62% who were planning for senior managers, 26% for project managers, 18% for field managers and 5% for experienced trade and craft personnel.

Regarding talent development, respondents described plans in place to retain potential leaders of their companies, including clearly defined career paths with performance indicators for each position, challenging job assignments and opportunities, and individual development plans based on skills and goals.

“One of the ways to improve employee retention is to have a clear career path,” the report states. “Employees need to understand there is room to grow within the organization. Having a career development plan empowers employees who want to move up in the company and provides logical steps to pursue advancement.”

The “war for talent” never really went away during the Great Recession, the report notes, and the issue is more prominent as the economy gets stronger and the construction industry starts ramping up new projects. More than half of respondents say they are facing a skilled labor shortage. Two of the top reasons cited are people who moved out of the construction industry during the recession and the poor industry reputation.

The top three recruiting techniques of respondents are online recruiting tools, internal employee referral programs with incentives and internship/co-op programs.

The report cites talent pools that construction companies should be marketing to, such as young people, women and minorities. This is not new information, but the fact is that women working in the trades comprise about 6% of the workforce. To recruit more women, companies can provide opportunities to balance work and personal life; offer child-care assistance, flexible scheduling or part-time work; and ensure that the work environment is supportive and nondiscriminatory.

Some of these strategies will also help to attract minorities to construction jobs. For employees who have language barriers, pair them with bilingual mentors, offer English as a Second Language classes, and teach them common safety and construction terms.

To attract young people, the report lists the usual suspects, such as high school career counselors and job fairs. Social media is a good way to connect with the younger generation and provide them positive information about the plumbing and heating industry, as well as your company.

The report also cites the ACE Mentor Program of America (www.acementor.org) as a great resource to introduce young people to careers in the construction trades. Established in 1994, today it is the construction industry’s fastest-growing high-school mentoring program, reaching more than 8,000 students in 200 cities each year.

ACE’s goal is to introduce students to career possibilities as well as to teach business skills, such as effective communication, presentation skills, meeting deadlines and working as team members.

What are you doing to make sure your company prospers after your retirement? Are you providing the proper development tools and career paths to retain good employees and create future leaders? Are you being proactive and promoting trades careers in your community?