Can we fix it? Millennials in the construction industry

shutterstock_150120215The millennial generation gets a lot of press these days, and rightly so. For the first time, Millennials (individuals born between 1980 and 2000) will surpass the baby boom generation as the nation’s largest living generation. This is a significant shift for companies that now have to figure out how to most effectively attract, retain and develop these younger workers – not all of whom are following their parents’ examples when it comes to job selection, company loyalty and career paths.

The construction industry faces particularly high hurdles when it comes to attracting and retaining new employees, given the drastic ebbs and flows the industry has suffered for decades. According to our latest Talent Development Report, 86% of respondents reported that their company was experiencing skilled labor shortages. Just two years ago, only 53% of respondents were dealing with this challenge.

shutterstock_153208307To understand what young workers in construction are looking for in an employer, we examined a broad industry survey that included responses from more than 200 millennials (see “Millennials in Construction: Learning to Engage a New Workforce” for more details). The following five key findings highlight what it takes to engage this young generation of workers:

Opportunity. Our research confirms that if employees feel they’re making progress and advancing in their careers, they’ll be more likely to remain with their companies long term. This is particularly relevant for companies in the construction industry, where many firms still don’t have well-defined career tracks or comprehensive talent development and leadership programs in place. With young, ambitious Millennials needing to learn, improve and advance quickly through an organization, employers must develop better solutions and challenge the old ways of “how things used to be done” – starting with the ways people interact and collaborate with one another.

Commitment from the Top. Research shows that employees who perceive senior managements’ commitment to their well-being stay engaged and plan to remain with their companies long term, compared to those who don’t feel appreciated or valued. As one millennial survey participant stated, “Being noticed for the hard work you are doing is a big deal in the construction industry. When executives tell you they appreciate your hard work, it really goes a long way in the industry.”

Much like their predecessors, Millennials are interested in job security and stability. And despite popular belief, they aren’t poised to switch jobs as soon as another opportunity presents itself. That said, these younger workers come from a “connected” generation that truly values collaboration, teamwork and social opportunities. Our study also indicates that Millennials value the use of new and innovative technologies to solve client and corporate challenges. Letting young people contribute and participate in such meaningful ways, and taking genuine interest in their careers and personal lives, are key to engaging them long term.

Challenge. Like other generations before them, Millennials want to be challenged with interesting and meaningful work. As one millennial survey participant put it: “When trying to engage Millennials, it is important to emphasize the appealing aspects of the industry. In construction, projects are always different. Showing Millennials the challenges each project offers gives them a sense of purpose and greater determination. The constantly changing work environment offers a more exciting route compared with the monotony of replicated day-to-day activities.”

Not unlike other generations that enter the workplace, Millennials have new perspectives to share, innovative ideas about getting things done and interesting ways of tackling problems. They are less willing to accept the “old school” methods of completing work, and they are always searching for new ways to streamline processes and increase efficiencies. This mindset is critical to pushing the industry forward. Failing to nurture the innovative and inquisitive nature of younger workers will create disengagement among employees and result in a less productive workforce over time.

Clear Company Vision. Cultures focused on employee engagement require a defined and well-communicated company vision. This point is especially important for young people who are kicking off their careers. By explaining the whole picture, company leaders can connect the meaning to their employees. This, in turn, gives workers a clear sense of purpose and an understanding of how their efforts fit within the larger plan. According to our research, when the company’s vision is inspiring and clearly communicated, Millennials are 25% more likely to stay longer with the company compared to those who don’t understand the company’s vision and direction.

Good Pay. For years, thought leaders have been talking about how Millennials are just out for a purpose crusade and how they are more interested in meaning than money. Our research paints a much different picture. When asked what’s most important to them, Millennials rank competitive pay as their highest concern. Haydn Shaw, a renowned generational expert, confirmed this finding and says, “The vast majority of surveys show that Millennials rank base pay as the most important factor in selecting and staying in a job, just as the other three generations do. They want meaningful work and a supportive culture to work in, but they want a well-paying job and career advancement more.”


Haydn Shaw. Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart. July 22, 2013.

calebCaleb Bagwell/Employee Education Specialist
John Maxwell Certified Leadership Coach
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
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