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Converting Generation Z to Generation Trades

From the October issue... As the talent crunch intensifies, firms are learning that they will have to offer new recruits much more than just a paycheck.

By SARAH MUELLER and STACEY HOLSINGER, Shapiro & Duncan, Inc., Washington DC

Gen Z, population born in 1997 and later, has started to enter the workforce! The oldest members of this generation are 22 years old, and many are starting the first jobs of their career. The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that by 2020, 20% of the U.S workforce will be comprised of this generation.

At Shapiro & Duncan, a third-generation family-owned mechanical contractor serving customers in the Washington, D.C. area since 1976, we are making a concerted effort to stay relevant in our efforts to recruit, hire, train and develop members of Gen Z. This article will answer three key questions for construction hiring managers:

  1. Who is Gen Z? What do they want out of a career? 
  2. How are construction firms attracting, recruiting and developing talent in a modern and competitive market? 
  3. What are some specific recruitment strategies and tactics used?

Who They Are and What They Want Out of Work

Research suggests that Gen Z is hard working and ambitious: 

  • 76% percent described themselves as responsible for driving their own career; 
  • While salary is important to this group, it’s not what’s driving them to work hard: 74% rank purpose ahead of a paycheck. In other words, these young people want to care about the work they do and feel like they are contributing to the betterment of the planet.  

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Our 2019 interns included (l to r) Kyaut Aim, Jack Britschge, Chavin DeSilva, Greg Hubscher, Paul Owens, and Brianne Gunn.

In our experience, inclusiveness in the company is critically important to Gen Z. They want and expect to be fully engaged in their entry level position, internship or apprenticeship role. They crave to explore a world outside their job description. That means getting to know the entire company, and their corporate values, mission and vision. They want a greater understanding of the organization and hope to gain experience by participating in networking, field visits, community work and social events. 

Recruiting, Hiring and Developing Today’s Talent 

For those of us involved in talent acquisition and development at Shapiro & Duncan, the biggest difference these days is not necessarily related to Gen Z. It’s more about the fierce competition for human capital in the construction industry due to the well-documented shortage of talent in the skilled trades.

Competition within our industry for skilled trades people is at an all-time high and, additionally, with full employment nationwide we are competing with all of the other growing industries from major players to start-ups.

With such fierce competition between construction companies for the most qualified applicants, candidates of all ages — not just Gen Z— are looking for an immediate sense of gratification in an employment opportunity. To keep them engaged, they require focused touch points beginning with when they apply and continuing through the hiring process. 

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Young people today want to care about the work they do and feel like they are contributing to the greater good.

In the current hyper-competitive construction job market, we have found that a best practice is to do a thorough job of planning staffing needs. This enables you to anticipate needed skillsets and start attracting the best people with outreach through social media, career fairs and networking events in order to keep the recruitment pipeline as full as possible.

Specific Recruitment Strategies and Tactics 

Visiting Schools on Career Day

More than three-quarters of Gen Z are still in secondary school. Partnering with elementary, middle and high schools on career days is critical. It gives us the opportunity to interact with the students on a 1-to-1 level and to showcase educational options other than college that can lead to well-paying careers without the burden of student loans. 

These options may include internships with construction firms, apprenticeships and community college certificate training programs in the skilled trades. 

Using Social Media as a tool to Connect and Engage

Instagram and YouTube are key for this generation. Utilizing Instagram stories can help them make an informed decision and give them a glimpse of the day-to-day operations. Creating YouTube videos to show employees at work, jobsites in action, behind-the-scenes tours, social activities and community service can help educate this generation on what our industry and your company can provide. It is also important to highlight people their own age so they can see how they might play a significant role in the industry. 

Internships and Mentoring

Internships and mentoring programs at Shapiro & Duncan are structured to give a holistic experience within the company. They are focused on connection and engagement to ultimately attract, hire or retain that employee. 

In order to fulfill the need for connection and to solidify a sense of engagement, our entry level employees are partnered with senior level employees to gain industry knowledge. It’s important their go-to person is someone they feel comfortable around, i.e. an experienced employee who can answer their “Why? And How Questions.” Very much like social media, this generation wants constant feedback good or bad on their job performance, so they can improve. If you are able to provide this type of consistent interaction, it might lead to a permanent position, or employee referral based on reputation. 

Employee Development and Training

Since we place such a high priority on employee education, training and development at Shapiro & Duncan, not just for Gen Z but for all employees, we have given our comprehensive learning management system a special name of its own. We call it S&D YOUniversity.

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An emphasis on training is key to both attracting and engaging the next generation.

S&D YOUniversity has been evolving for more than 20 years. Today, we offer over 80 training courses in-house, through external sources and online. Classes are conducted at our main office in Rockville MD, at our 51,000-sq-ft fabrication shop in nearby Landover MD, and online. 

All employees have access to S&D YOUniversity training opportunities. Participation, however, is not voluntary. Employees are required to complete three continuing education credits per year, two of them through in-house courses and one through an outside source such as apprenticeship or factory training. In addition, employees are required to complete mandatory safety training.

Apprentices do both in-house classroom training and on-the-job training. This time counts toward their Shapiro & Duncan education requirement.

Key Takeaways

Gen Z defines success in a career when they get the flexibility they need to support their lifestyle; they can contribute to the greater good; have a great working relationship with their supervisors and their questions are answered. 
In order to gain sustained competitive advantage in today’s shallow pool of qualified applicants, the firms that rank high in reputation, culture, benefits and social responsibility will prevail.  

Sarah Mueller, SHRM-SCP, is Director of Human Resources at Shapiro & Duncan, and co-author Holsinger is Marketing Manager. Based in Washington, the mechanical contracting firm employs more than 400 people and specializes in complex commercial, government and institutional design-build projects.

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