Making and Keeping Great Decorative Concrete Workers in an Employee Drought

In 2010 the experts told us it would come. They warned us there would be a labor shortage in Colorado in 2014. We sat with a gloomy recession cloud over our heads, doing everything possible to keep our best employees busy so we could retain them, and being forced to let many good long-term employees go due to the lack of work. Hearing news of a future labor shortage just made the pain of losing great employees even worse.

But now, here we sit, in 2014, cursing ourselves because those so-called experts were right. It is indeed painfully difficult to find experienced field personnel.

In desperation we post employment opportunities on social media sites, in local newspapers and on online job listing pages. We even purchase radio spots, hoping to pick up the one or two rock-star employees left looking for new employment. Some of us scratch our heads wondering why there isn’t a waiting list to work for our company — after all, we are pretty awesome! But the reality is, there truly is a labor shortage out there.

If it hasn’t hit your region yet, it will, and it is tough. If it has, I will let you in on a few tips and tricks to beat it that we have discovered through trial and error.

Job fair
This sounded like a fantastic idea. We knew of a local ready-mix supplier who had a job-fair open house. They hired 25 people from this event alone. I am not sure how they advertise, but when we tried it, we advertised on the radio, posted flyers in local supply shops, told all of our employees about it, posted it in the newspaper, on online ads… you name it, we probably did it. Now granted, the day we had the job fair, it ended up being a snowy, miserable day. However, you could also argue the weather should have helped us get more people who were already employed but sitting at home for the day.

In any case, truth be told, we only had four or five candidates show up. We had talked to 10 individuals before the fair who said they would come to learn about the positions and fill out applications but never showed up. The job fair was a bust.

However, we did get 20 to 25 job inquiries because of the additional advertising we did for the open house.

Online listings
Yes, I’m talking about those popular virtual-marketplace types of sites. Employment ads can be posted to these sites for $25 or less. We are seeing some responses from these ads. The websites designed for the sole purpose of marketing jobs tend to get more hits and responses. However, with several former dishwashers and yoga instructors applying whose last job happened to be in 2012, I do wonder if they are serious.

When we advertised our job fair on the radio, we received an awesome influx of calls. But radio is expensive. We chose one of the higher-ranked Hispanic radio stations and played our ad during peak listening hours. Not a cheap investment and maybe not the best use of our money.

Newspapers are becoming a thing of the past, but I did do an ad in a local paper, partnered with an online listing on a major job-posting website. I received only one response. It’s not the market we’re after any more.

Word of mouth
The best advertising, as with almost every aspect of running a business, is done word of mouth. Looking back historically, many of our best hires were a direct result of a current employee reaching out to a friend or family member. We put “now hiring” magnets on our trucks and let all of our employees know we are looking for help. We have the most success hiring great, long-term employees this way.

The best advice I can give: If your region isn’t currently in an employment rut but the experts say it is coming, you better act today to snatch up the best people before they are taken. In any listing or advertising you do for employment, make your company sound as wonderful as it is. Give the potential new hire enough information to know what he or she is applying for and to get excited about working for your company.

In our ads, I include a link to our website and photos of some of our projects. As I mentioned, the best advertising is word of mouth. Hopefully your current employees know of some qualified people either from other job sites or through friends or family they can refer.

Of course, in order for current employees to refer someone else to work for your company, they should be pretty happy working for you themselves. Make sure your employees feel appreciated, are being paid competitive wages and have a safe yet comfortable work environment. Treat your employees like family and they will most likely feel comfortable bringing additional friends and family on board. I remember working for Vince Schrementi of Everlast Concrete years ago one summer outside of Chicago, and he remains my poster child for how to treat employees. He treated each employee like they were family. He would help them out when they needed help, push and challenge them, and always have an open door. In fact, on Friday afternoons they would fire up the grill out back and just enjoy time with each other at the end of the workday. When you treat your employees well, hopefully they will stay and be your best recruiters for more like them.

Realistically, you will not be able to fill all your voids with qualified and experienced labor. At Colorado Hardscapes, many of our employees have been with us 20-plus years, and it’s time to face the fact that we need to start training the next generation of employees and hire new blood.

As we bring on new employees, we mingle our crews by mixing the old and the new. The seasoned employees represent more knowledge than any trade school can teach. They are our most valuable training tool. It takes a lot of patience, but we are fortunate that many of our older employees realize the importance of training and bringing on new employees to help the company and to help their own job go more smoothly.

When possible, we start new employees on the nondecorative finishes to teach them the basics and our standard practices. As they master those areas, we move them into the decorative finishes and more detailed work. It can take six months to a year before a new employee can work independently or even cohesively on a crew, but it is a long-term investment worth making.

Be prepared to spend time and money recruiting, hiring and training employees. As we enter the next cycle of the economy, we are faced with employment challenges. If you are in the midst of the employment drought like we are, then buckle up, spread the word, treat your current employees well and start getting creative with your scheduling. And if you have too many wonderful employees, please send them our way!.

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