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Staffing, retention an ongoing employer challenge, Hays finds

Angela Gismondi
Staffing, retention an ongoing employer challenge, Hays finds

Employers in the construction sector continue to have difficulty with staffing and retention, indicate the findings of a recent Hays Canada report.

The country’s largest staffing and recruitment firm released its annual salary guide which gathers insight from thousands of employers and employees across Canada and outlines what is anticipated from a staffing perspective in 2017.

The report reveals that construction employers, like other industries across the country, are choosing to be more conservative on the hiring front in the coming year.

It also notes that 77 per cent of construction employers feel the industry suffers from a skills shortage, which is higher than all other industries surveyed including technology and finance.

"Most people said that the reason there is a long-term skills shortage is because there are fewer people entering the industry and when you look at why that is, most companies believe it’s to do with the perception and stereotypes people have of the construction industry," said Rowan O’Grady, president of Hays Canada.

"If you are talking to a young person today, are they attracted to go work in the construction industry or are they attracted to go work in a bank or in technology? I think most people think of other industries to join and there is a question on how the construction industry can combat the image that it has because there are a lot of really excellent companies to work for. It’s a really interesting and challenging industry and a lot of people working in it really do enjoy the work."

When it comes to attracting talent, 73 per cent believe competitive salaries make them attractive to top candidates, yet 71 per cent haven’t altered them to attract top talent. Career growth has the most impact on retention, but less employers are offering training and professional development than the previous year, the findings indicate.

"We’re still having trouble with office staff, so project managers are still hard to find, same with estimators,"

Samantha Massey

Alliance Excavating

"There’s a skills shortage and it affects salaries and there is competition between construction-related companies to attract and hold onto the best people," explained O’Grady. "How do they hold onto the best guys and how do they lure people from other companies to their own company? I think it’s a constant battle going on between all general contracting companies really."

In addition, those in senior leadership roles are getting older and many will retire in the next 10 years, O’Grady pointed out.

"Those guys are the most difficult people to find," he stated. "I think that’s particularly concerning to the construction industry because there’s a large proportion of the people working in the construction industry in senior leadership roles. There really is a lack of intermediate to lower level senior management coming through the system which will put an extreme amount of pressure on those companies."

Alliance Excavating Ltd., a mid-sized water and sewer servicing company focused on industrial and commercial projects, based in Edmonton, Alta., said turnover was very low in 2016 and poaching slowed substantially compared to 2015.

"We’re not having a lot of trouble retaining employees at the moment in the field, especially since there’s been an influx of oil labourers and employees moving into the construction industry," said Samantha Massey, interim general manager at Alliance Excavating.

"At the same time, I don’t think a lot of people are hiring because of the poor economy so we have a lot of options, a lot of people with experience moving into the market."

That translates into payroll savings and access to more skilled people, but because the business is a niche market, senior management positions are still hard to fill.

"We’re still having trouble with office staff, so project managers are still hard to find, same with estimators," said Massey.

Salaries did decrease quite a bit which has to do with the oil and gas sector plummeting, she added.

"It’s bad because morale isn’t that great when you’re not making the same amount you used to make," Massey explained. "With our current employees, we had to do reductions to meet the market rate and of course that brought down morale because everyone got a 15 to 20 per cent reduction. We know as soon as the oil and gas industry picks up that a lot of our staff is going to pick up and leave with it."

More wage cuts are not planned but there will likely be cuts to office administration because the market has slowed and sales have dropped, Massey concluded.

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