Forty percent of single-family home builders report plans to hire skilled laborers during the coming year, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) on behalf of the Home Builders Institute (HBI). The survey results, which came out in July, create a paradox for companies that are hiring. In late May, the ManpowerGroup reported that "skilled trades" tops the list of the most difficult positions to fill.

"Years ago when the industry was booming, construction firms would take in workers and train them on the job," says HBI president and CEO John Courson. "Now, things are starting to come back, but a lot of the companies that want to hire aren't in an economic situation where they have the time and resources to devote to on-the-job training."

A Teachable Situation

Students in the Home Bulders Institute's Pre-Apprenticeship Program learn a range of skills and that can be immediately put to use on the jobsite. The program also includes field work so trainees have real-world jobsite experience before they start their job searches.
HBI Students in the Home Bulders Institute's Pre-Apprenticeship Program learn a range of skills and that can be immediately put to use on the jobsite. The program also includes field work so trainees have real-world jobsite experience before they start their job searches.

According to the ManpowerGroup's seventh annual Talent Shortage Survey, skilled trades has topped the list four out of the last five years. The organization's analysis suggests that a lack of training in vocations is the culprit. "As educational systems around the world have focused on four-year university education, this has resulted in the decline of vocational/technical programs," the report states. "Both curricula and enrollments have eroded over the past several decades. In addition, with fewer new workers to offset current retirements in the skilled trades, many economies will face continued shortages in the future."

Courson says that HBI is working hard to bring attention back to trades education and aims to match graduates of its pre-apprenticeship program with builders and remodelers looking for trained workers. "Our goal is to take different populations of workers — disadvantaged youth, veterans, displaced adult workers — and train them in eight different construction skills," he explains. "They leave us with a pre-apprenticeship certification, and can then work with our placement staff all over the country to find suitable jobs. Over the last year, 80% of our graduates have had success with job placement."

The program's training focuses include carpentry, painting, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, landscaping, masonry, and facilities maintenance. During a one-year pre-apprenticeship program through Job Corps, students will study all eight courses, and can then home in on specific areas of interest for additional study. "This type of education really makes our students perfect for a remodeling situation because in many cases you need all of those trades to be done, and they're trained in each area," Courson says. HBI's job placement service works with home builders associations and their remodelers councils around the country. Additionally, he notes that members of the National Association of Home Builders' student chapters often focus on the business side of construction, such as project management and job-costing. Together, the organizations and educational institutions that feed them could help boost the quality of construction position applicants.

Mismatched Expectations

Of course, not all hiring challenges stem from education or technical skills. The ManpowerGroup survey listed several other reasons for difficulty filling jobs. A simple lack of applicants was reported by 36% of respondents*, followed by lack of experience (31%), and candidates looking for more pay than is being offered (19%). A lack of employability or "soft skills" (such as motivation, professionalism, critical thinking/problem-solving, and attention to detail) was reported by 15% of employers.

A recent discussion on the Remodeling Facebook page focused on similar issues when a New England remodeler reported difficulty filling jobs.

Small-business owners looking for ways to improve the situation have a few options to choose from. ManpowerGroup's survey asked employers what strategies they were using to overcome difficulty filling jobs. A quarter of respondents said they're increasing training for existing team members (up from 21% in 2011), and 12% are taking advantage of "teachable fit"  situations, hiring less experienced workers who could potentially grow into their new roles. Another 12% began looking for candidates outside their immediate geographic region.

Other employers focused on the money side of the equation. Eight percent say they offer increased starting salaries to attract candidates, and 7% offer enhanced benefits packages including sign-on bonuses.

Have you had trouble hiring in recent months or found solutions to hiring challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or visit our Facebook page to join the conversation.

*Editor's Note: ManpowerGroup's Talent Shortage Survey looked at hiring challenges globally, and broken down by global region, as well as by country for some data. Skilled trades was listed as the No. 1 hardest position to fill in the overall Global report, and was also No. 1 in the U.S. The suggestions for how to overcome hiring challenges applied to "The Americas" region. —Lauren Hunter, senior editor, REMODELING.

More REMODELING articles about industry education and hiring:

Second Annual National Tradesmen Day Scheduled for Sept. 21

Training Ground: Mentoring interns is good for the industry, and good for your company

Hire Calling: Tips for Hiring Field Employees

Cross-Training: Young Remodelers Gain Experience at Other Remodeling Companies