Why would I want to work there?“Why would I want to work there?” is a common refrain heard by many companies in the construction and manufacturing world. These companies, many of whom form the backbone of our clients here at Two Rivers Marketing, as well as their customers – the contractors, shipbuilders, manufacturers, farmers, and more – are struggling to find skilled trade talent within the next generation of workers.

Four articles in an issue of Des Moines Sunday Register (our hometown newspaper) earlier this fall talked about the topic that seems to be on every employer’s mind these days: how to attract, hire, and retain the right employees. And not just the right employees, any employees even.

There are countless other examples that routinely show up in the e-newsletters, the mainstream media, and in particular the trade press that we monitor here at the agency.

These “blue collar” jobs struggle to find takers for a variety of reasons, particularly in an economy with already low unemployment (sitting at just above 4.0%, a historically low number). Potential work goes undone. Jobs remain unfilled. Business lags. And attracting younger people to these types of careers is challenging.

We participated in a student program at Drake University here in Des Moines earlier this year, where we tasked the students to help us look at the issue of the blue-collar labor shortage and understand their attitudes toward such jobs and careers, and what it would take to attract young people to those types of careers.

For most of these students, thinking of jobs like these was not even part of their consideration set; parents taught them to avoid these kinds of manual labor jobs and focus on college. Shows like “Dirty Jobs” were a disincentive to working in industries like that, rather than a celebration of that type of work. Applying for a “white collar” position in these industries was not something they considered.

Some of the findings they shared with us, and the different ways they tackled the challenge we set to them, were enlightening. Here are a few of the more critical observations they shared with us.

Get students interested in these careers much earlier than in college or high school
If the trades want to capture more workers, they need to get in with students earlier. Perceptions are already being formed in grade school by parents, teachers, and others about what kinds of careers they should consider, and often, the trades are not in the mix. Outreach at these ages is important, and many construction or trade firms are not doing this.

The work is repetitive, has no variety or room to advance
Their perceptions of construction jobs are that you would do the same thing every day. There is no variety. You get stuck. They suggested setting up rotations, cross-training, or providing a variety of things to do to help them learn more continually and to keep them from getting stale.

Get active in social media and support your brand online
As digital natives, today’s students don’t know you exist if you aren’t online. Many construction-related firms or manufacturers have poor or boring online experiences, and often no social presence. Take a look at your brand. Is it appealing? Does it look modern? Does it look like a place a young person would want to work and build a career?

The work environment is critical
Their views are being shaped by stories about the workplaces at Google, Apple, and other cool places to work. They’ve grown up in a Starbucks world. How do your offices or jobsites compare?

Be involved in the community
The next generation of workers is very community minded, so along with building your brand, promote what you are doing in the community. Most construction companies and manufacturers are active and supportive of their communities, but are you talking about it online? Demonstrate your company’s culture and the good work that you do so that it is more than just a job or a place to collect a paycheck.

While we asked the students to look at helping solve the challenge of attracting blue collar workers, their solutions really apply to all workers of the future. We face many of these same hiring challenges here at our agency. How does your company stack up in being able to meet the demands of the workforce of tomorrow?

Addressing their needs can give them the answer to why they should want to work for your company.

About Patrick McGill

As the managing director of strategy, Patrick is our very own Sherlock Holmes. When he’s not immersed in research, you’ll more than likely find Patrick traveling — those travels have taken him to all 50 states. You can email our inquisitive Mr. McGill at patrickm@2rm.com.