Construction workers on site; tools keeping crews happy concept

How to Retain Construction Workers: Give People Tools That Help Them Do Good Work

In a tight labor market, one of the most important things a business can do is retain employees.

In this article, we will give you the best tips on how to retain construction workers by giving them the tools that allow them to perform.

Employee turnover is costly, and keeping good people is always going to be less expensive than hiring and training up new people — especially when there is so much competition for talent.

“A simple solution to reducing staff turnover is to pay more attention to your workers,” writes the team at Pier Consulting, which specializes in staffing trades businesses.

“Generally, by improving the life of your construction workers, your staff turnover rate will reduce. When workers are happy, they are more likely to commit to projects long term, helping you to commit less resources to recruiting, and focus on growing your business.”

Let’s look at five things construction businesses can do to improve the lives of their teams.

Optimize the Processes That Support Workers

Tradespeople need to be given the right tools for the jobs they’re on. But even more fundamentally, they need their employers to have the right systems in place to organize work in general.

Michigan-based reporter Lindsey Poisson illustrates how important this is with an example from another industry entirely, tech support. Poisson tells the story of an IT worker who was so good at his job that he turned a four-day task into a two-day task. His reward? He had to pitch in at the chaotic support desk, where the company had failed to invest sufficient resources.

“He often ended up working late because of frequent problems with his work device and trouble connecting to the company’s apps and services,” Poisson writes. “… Unsurprisingly, he left that job, taking the company’s six-year investment with him to another organization.”

We can apply that same lesson to construction project management. If project managers are having to juggle disparate systems, or if field leads are having to handwrite their daily reports, or if team communication is flowing through messy text-message threads, everyone is going to get frustrated at work.

When people are free to focus on the work they were hired to do, they’re much more likely to remain with their employers. This applies to tradespeople, to IT professionals and to anyone else in the workforce.

Prioritize Ease of Use When Selecting Software

If you want your teams to actually use the software you’ve purchased, then you need to buy software that someone can intuitively figure out how to use.

Sure, training is an important and necessary part of software onboarding, but within the industry IT training in general tends to fall short of what people need. According to the 2021 Annual Construction Technology Report, only 54 percent of respondents said they always receive the IT support they need to do their jobs. (The responses from 2020 were nearly the same.)

But let’s say your company does prioritize training. Even still, people will forget what they’re trained up on if it’s not constantly being reinforced. That’s where ease of use comes in. When someone can intuit their way around a piece of software, they’re less likely to get frustrated by the tool and more likely to continue using it.

how to retain construction workers

Create a Culture of Communication and Collaboration

This tip follows from the point above about not organizing work with text-message threads.

Instead, have a central system for all team communication to flow through. This makes the organization of work more transparent, and it fosters a sense of true collaboration and camaraderie — something field and office teams have historically struggled with.

“There’s a lot to be said for familiarity within a team or crew on the job site,” writes the team at MindForge, which builds communication tools for front-line workers. “Personally knowing the people on the crew leads to more effective training and increased communication, and better camaraderie helps leaders know who has the right skills for the right tasks.

“… Using tech to create a central space for your company culture will retain employees longer. They now will feel like they are part of a team and have a critical role with their tasks and overall project.”

Don’t Let Language Barriers Get in the Way

Your team might have people who don’t speak English natively or feel comfortable using English in a professional setting. That shouldn’t stop them from being able to do their jobs, though.

When it comes to using digital tools, make sure everyone has access to training and learning materials in the language of their choice. It makes a big difference.

Case in point: R.J. Morris, VP of talent management at McCarthy Building Companies, says his company began providing bilingual English-Spanish materials to all employees in the mid-2010s. This included training materials and even advice on selecting family healthcare providers.

“The percentage of workers taking advantage of the life insurance program and interacting with human resources has gone through the roof since this program was implemented,” Morris writes at the CONEXPO-CON/AGG blog. “Workers feel like they’re being listened to on issues such as health benefits, life insurance and competitive pay.”

Nurture the Pride People Have for the Work They Do

People who work in commercial construction take great pride in their work.

As Brian Turmail of the Associated General Contractors of America points out, it’s incredibly meaningful for someone to drive past a building or a bridge or a piece of infrastructure they’ve worked on, point to it and say, “I helped build that.”

That’s the thing that motivates career construction trade contractors. Their employers need to recognize and honor that.

How do you do this? By giving them a place to share their inputs and their opinions. “A huge part of improving employee engagement is making them feel that their perspectives and opinions are valued,” says Aki Merced, content manager at Handle, which makes tools that help construction trade companies automate payment collection and get paid faster.

“Getting input from employees in the construction industry is doubly vital. Being on the field means they have insights that management-level employees may not possess.”

Collaboration and Employee Engagement Reinforce One Another

The best way to keep employees engaged and reduce your own employee turnover is to make sure the following things are happening:

  • People are free to focus on the work they specialize in, not plugging holes in faulty processes.
  • People have channels to share ideas and build relationships with their coworkers.
  • People feel their insights are valued.

We built eSUB Cloud to facilitate those kinds of outcomes. To learn more about how our construction project management software can support your own goals for employee engagement and employee retention, schedule a demo today.

Images by: Eric Wang, Scott Blake