At Certified Contractor Network’s (CCN) last conference, this topic came up in many sessions: What is the best way to attract potential talent? It’s a big challenge in production, but by no means just production. Companies need administrators, salespeople, marketers and every kind of position. Qualified people are scarce. If someone 25 years old with a newly minted degree can get a job in the sales or marketing department of a bank making $60,000 a year, versus going to work for a construction company and making $25,000 or $30,000, which will they take? Right now, 38 percent of Americans have a college degree. In 1940, that was 2 percent.

What’s clear is that the problem isn’t going to right itself. It will only intensify. Crews, for instance, are getting older. While they may be more efficient, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re faster. It’s harder to replace production people with young people opting for college instead of the trades.

Create the Environment

One implication is there may be fewer contractors. Since buildings always need renovation and repair, that favors those who are already in the residential construction market. So just as it’s never been harder to attract young people, there’s probably never been a better time to start a contracting company. To attract them, you have to provide opportunity and show young people it’s there.

First of all, that means paying more. There’s really no way around this. You have to offer a good, competitive salary with benefits. If you look at some of the successful manufacturers in this industry, many have recent college graduates working for them. They know what they need to do to attract smart young people. It’s an ongoing effort because they don’t expect those new people to stick around for even five years. They know they have them for two or three years at the most.

Contractors have to do the same thing. It’s not like we’re operating in a world apart. Put yourself in the head of a job seeker right out of college. If corporations in your market offer $55,000 and a clear career path to a six-figure income, why would they consider you when you’re offering half of that and what looks like a dead-end job?

But if you’re growing, it’s not impossible to show them your company represents an opportunity just as big, only different. For instance, someone might get a job selling windows, and if they’re good, they could make that much in commission and be on their way to a six-figure income. They might also grow into a sales manager or run a branch or a division of the company in some other city.

Get On that Trash Pile

Getting a job at a home improvement company now is a far cry from the way it used to be. Thirty years ago you went to work and started at the bottom, which meant being screamed at. It was management by hazing.

“Hey you! Get on that trash pile!”

Intimidation was the style from the top down. Older workers training newcomers did it, probably because they were wary of someone coming in and taking their job.

Today you can’t treat people like that. They’ll just leave.

All this gets back to opportunity and advancement. Opportunity has to be there for the long-term employee as well as new ones. A lot of companies in CCN have workers who’ve been there for decades. If those 25-year workers can see the next step in their own career path, they won’t be afraid of training new people. But you have to show them they have security. They have to believe it, and for that to happen there has to be trust.

Make Something Lasting

The advantage you offer that a corporation doesn’t is that someone young coming into contracting today can learn the business and, at some point, start their own company. Corporate jobs come and go, but owning a company gives you the chance to build something lasting.

It’s also your creation. You shape it for better or worse. For instance, if you’re putting in a 60-hour week, that 50-hour corporation position looks like cake to anyone else, such as a job candidate. But if you manage the home improvement company with systems and processes, you find the number of hours you actually need to be there steadily diminishes. I put in five or 10 hours a week at Maggio Roofing and, because the company runs itself, another owner could walk in and do the same thing.

Many owners new to CCN are good operators who’ve built substantial companies. They’ve learned by making mistakes. Often they’re still trying to run everything. But they’re drawn to the idea of putting systems and processes in place so they can get out of the day-by-day and focus on growth. It’s not impossible to do that alone, but it’s a lot easier when someone else has already made your mistakes for you.

Scott Siegal is owner of Maggio Roofing in Washington, D.C., and also owns the Certified Contractors Network. You can learn more about CCN by going to the website

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