Scaling to 8 figures: How to hire construction workers in a labor shortage (Part 3 of 3)

Help wanted sign to graphically illustrate how to hire construction worker tips

Scaling to 8 figures series: This is the final installment of our three-part series highlighting business growth strategies. Previously, we shared what makes a construction project manager successful and four simple strategies to scale your company to eight figures. Today, we are highlighting a how to attract the best talent for the best business results.

If you’ve been hustling away growing your business over the last few years, you’ve likely noticed an ominous trend. You’ve no doubt asked yourself in frustration at least once … where did all the talent go? When did hiring good staff get so hard?

It seems like every year fewer and fewer people apply to construction job postings. Wages and entitlement keep creeping higher while actual talent and acumen have gone in the opposite direction.

The fact of the matter is: Hiring is harder than it was even five years ago. The rudimentary recruiting tactics that worked back then are nowhere near adequate today. This presents a huge challenge for construction owners running businesses where human capital is everything.

Contractor's guide: Build your hiring funnel

Now before we talk about how to get out of this jam, I think it’s important to understand how we got here in the first place.

When did hiring construction workers get so hard?

The 2008 financial crisis and COVID-19 pandemic

New construction starts plummeted by about 70% as developers, general contractors and individual homeowners lost access to capital. For construction workers specifically, this meant about 1.5 million of them had to go find new jobs elsewhere or retire (see the graph below). 

Between 2010 and 2020, the sector slowly recovered. And by 2020, all 1.5 million of those construction jobs had been recovered (and then some). We all know what happened next, though. March 2020 brought about the COVID-19 pandemic, and again, the economy got shut down.

While construction and trades were deemed “essential” early on (which we can agree was good for business), only about 80% of the construction workers who initially lost their jobs due to COVID-19 returned. This means we’re still down about 238,000 qualified workers compared to pre-pandemic levels. These two big hits to our labor pool, one in 2008 and another in 2020, can’t be ignored when trying to understand how we got here. 

Employees in Construction
U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics – Total number of employed construction workers over the last 15 years

The aging workforce

Another salient feature of the construction industry is that its workforce is getting older. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a construction worker in 2014 was 40.5 years old. In 2021, the average age was 42.9. That’s a significant move in the upward direction, which means young people aren’t entering the space as quickly as the older workers are leaving it.

Changes in education

Shop classes have been defunded or scrapped altogether in many school districts. This means that mechanically minded youngsters have nowhere to explore or develop this predisposition to working with their hands, even in their own schools.

Compounding the issue is the stronger push toward four-year universities. In recent decades, high school students have been told the true marker of success is higher education, while the trades have been increasingly ignored.

The solution: Build a world-class hiring funnel

Quick fixes aren’t the answer here. Intentional and long-term solutions will help builders find the talent they need to forge forward. The Breakthrough Academy’s hiring funnel strategy is just that.

This team is helping over 450 contracting businesses scale for growth, and the vast majority of them are bumping up against this exact same choke point when it comes to human capital. Helping contractors systemize processes and build rock star teams is all they do.

Hiring follows the exact same steps as marketing and sales. You need to look at it through the same lens, and approach it with the same energy.

Top of funnel

Remember this, you will always make a bad hire if you have no one good to choose from. Your top-of-funnel systems should work in unison to solve this problem and deliver you an inbox full of outstanding resumes.

Ideal candidate profiles:

This is a document where you summarize your ideal candidate for a role in detail. What attributes make a good office manager? Which ones make a strong site supervisor? Different roles demand different attributes.

The other side of the equation your ideal candidate profile needs to consider is what are they looking for in an employer. How do they want to feel about their work?  What kind of culture are they attracted to? To answer these questions, interview those who currently work in this role. You can glean a lot of helpful insights this way.

Without an ideal candidate profile, two things become very challenging:

  • First, you’ll find it nearly impossible to write a compelling job posting that connects with the candidate and gets them to apply. You haven’t put yourself in their shoes. How do you know what would excite them enough to take action? 
  • Secondly, effective interviewing will be difficult. You haven’t laid out the criteria you’ll interview against or formulated the questions you need to ask.

An ideal candidate profile is the first step of any great hiring funnel.

Job Postings:

Just remember that a good job posting doesn’t need to appeal to everyone. It’s more important that it speaks to the type of person you’ve described in your ideal candidate profile.

To master this, check out The Breakthrough Academy’s Ideal Candidate Profile and Job Posting Tool. There is an explainer video, an example file and a fill-in-the-blank template for you to start using in your hiring funnel immediately.

Applicant generation:  

Passive tactics

  • Post sponsored ads on a minimum of 3 different sites

Most job board sites give you the option to spend some money to have your ad featured at the top of the list. Always spend the money to do this, and repeat the process on at least two other sites. Casting a wide net is key.

  • Build a “Join Our Team” page or your website

This page should link to all your open roles and job postings. Include some well-written copy about why your company rocks, and hire a graphic designer to create icons and other catchy visual assets.

  • Use your Instagram to celebrate current employees

It’s extremely easy to use your Instagram grid to highlight your amazing team and the work they do. The team you currently have will feel appreciated and acknowledged, and a culture like this is something strong candidates want to see. Oh, and clients love it too.

Active tactics

  • Implement an incentivized employee referral program

Offer employees $1,000 (or consider larger amounts for bigger roles) if they bring you someone who joins the team. Pay this out after the new employee hits the end of their 3-month probationary period. With time, your team will turn into a talent recruiting machine and take some of the burden off you.

  • Facebook Messenger strategy

Pick an afternoon to get your team all together. Ask them to bring a device, and let them know this is paid time. Prepare a templated message inviting someone to check out a job posting or to forward to anyone who might be a good fit – then send it to the team. They then send out direct messages to 50 local contacts from their Facebook network.

  • Build a shortlist of candidates who already have a job

There is nothing wrong with keeping an eye out for talented people employed by other businesses. Invite them out for coffee and get to know them. When they’re ready for a career change, the existing relationship will make you the first person they call.

Middle of funnel

The idea at this stage is to sell the role and your business as the obvious next step for candidates while also assessing their merit against the profile you built.

Interview setup calls:

After you discard resumes that aren’t going to cut it, you’re left with a shortlist of candidates who look good enough on paper for, at the very least, a phone call. This is the candidate’s first time speaking with a human being from your company. It’s also your first chance to sell yourself and the opportunity you’re offering.

Carve out the time, find a quiet place and take these calls seriously. For a perfectly laid out setup call, download this Interview Setup Call Guide.

Behavioral interviewing:

Have you ever made a hire, but felt those pangs of regret three months later when the person isn’t all they promised they would be? Listen, interviewing is a tricky business, and if you struggle with it, you’re not alone.

Behavioral interviewing is a proven method of assessing a candidate’s previous experience to determine whether they have (or don’t have) the characteristics laid out in your ideal candidate profile.

Download the easy-to-use Behavioral Interviewing Framework, and remember: Past behavior predicts future performance.

Bottom of funnel


With your interviews complete, candidates scored and your notes reviewed, you’re now ready to select the best fit.

If you’ve got two or more people you think would be great, ask yourself: Which one aligns with our core values more, and which of these final candidates would get along with the rest of my team the best?

One person usually edges the others out.

Final thoughts …

The business landscape is evolving every day, and you must evolve with it. You’ll need to work harder and spend more, but the people your business needs to get to the next level are out there. Believe that.

Take some comfort in knowing this is a solvable problem and assembling a hiring funnel can help. And that’s not the only tool that attracts workers, especially younger ones to fill gaps from the aging workforce. Construction tech like Buildertrend revolutionizes your team.

The recruitment benefits of project management software for home builders are twofold:

  • First, you’ll streamline processes. What once took you five hours might only take 30 minutes. Those time savings could add up to one less position to fill.
  • Second, tech is attractive to the millennial workforce. Construction isn’t just nails and saws anymore. Younger, business-minded individuals will be drawn to innovative tools like Buildertrend. They can help implement it across your company, meaning tech acts as a path for future career growth, too.

To see what Buildertrend can do for your business, schedule a demo today. Or, if you need help building out your hiring funnel and a whole host of other systems to scale for growth, contact Breakthrough Academy

We systemize contracting businesses for growth

About The Author

Benji Carlson

Benji Carlson Benji is host of Breakthrough Academy’s “The Contractor Evolution Show.” Before hosting this, he assessed over 1,000 contracting companies to get them on track to scale. Breakthrough Academy systemizes contracting companies for growth. If you’re a quickly growing contractor who wants help implementing better project management infrastructure, contact us here.

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