Solutions for Change  

The workforce of the 21st century is drastically different than the workforce of the 20th century. Despite the fact that society transitioned into a post-Industrial era in the late 1990s, many of our workforce practices and perspectives still reflect traditional methodologies. This misalignment significantly contributes to the trades’ struggle to recruit and retain talent.  

 

Shifting workforce strategies to better align to the times will lead the industry to more successfully engage, educate, and retain the next generation workforce- ultimately growing the industry into the future.  Here are some recommendations for how to do this: 

 Step #1: Leadership Transformation 

As Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, once said, “a leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be.” This statement has never been more true than in today’s 21st century workplace. As Sarah Sladek, author of Talent Generation explained, “In the 20th century, leadership was often the equivalent of power, fueled by a top down, ‘do-it-because-I-said-so’ approach to management. It was a role that had to be earned over time.” This is no longer the case. Instead, leaders need to look to their organizations to see what they should be doing, not necessarily what they are doing, in order to successfully lead a 21st century workforce.  

With the majority of masonry professionals approaching retirement age within the next 10 years, now is the critical time for masonry leaders to adjust their leadership strategies and embrace succession planning. Too often leaders are complacent and intentionally not collaborating with, mentoring, or preparing the next generation of leaders. The mentality of ‘I had to learn this on my own, now you will have to do the same’ is paralyzing organizations.    

A Deloitte Millennial survey estimates that by 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. Yet, leaders today are not developing these young leaders; preparation to pass the baton is not occurring. Instead, Millennials are being dismissed, and it is to the detriment of organizations and society as a whole.  

In contrast, leaders who are engaging with younger employees and who show passion, humility, and an urgency for change are positioning their companies for success long into the future.  

 

  • In its inaugural year, Power Home Remodeling of Chester, Penn., was ranked by Millennials as #1 on the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials list. Why? Because Power focuses on empowering and mentoring its employees.  

 

  • Millennials were taught from a young age their ideas are important and valuable. They were also raised to constantly seek advice. In response, effective 21st century leaders support and develop their Millennial leaders accordingly.  

 

  • “Over 79% of Millennials see mentoring as crucial to their career success.” – Julie Kantor, CEO, TwoMentor, LLC 

 

Millennials have been raised having their ideas and perspectives valued so naturally they look for that same consideration from their workplaces. When they feel their voices are heard, their engagement levels skyrocket. When they feel dismissed, their engagement levels plummet. To further illustrate this, a 2017 Gallup poll revealed 47% of disengaged Millennials said they would look for different jobs to try and find places that were better cultural fits, with leaders dedicated to being supportive and nurturing their career development.    

It is time for masonry leaders to think differently in order to bridge generational gaps. As Kent Huntley, CME, president of the North Carolina Masonry Contractors Association stated, “Many people put it all on the youngsters. I put it on me, too. I need to ask myself ‘what have I done to get to know them?’ It is up to me just as much, if not more, to start the conversation. If we [the masonry industry] started to listen to them more, we would learn a lot. In my own conversations, it is really cool to get their take on a project or an idea.”

Paul M. Cantarella, president of Cantarella & Sons, Inc., has also experienced the power of this approach. Cantarella emphasized the importance of finding the time to engage and talk to employees. Because he has given his employees a voice, they feel valued. “Always make sure to listen to what they have to say,” advised Cantarella.  In fact, it is through his conversations with his employees that he feels confident about the future because his employees love their jobs and are confident about their own futures. His investment in them is an investment in his company and his industry.  

The Power of Mentorship Programs  

Creating a mentorship program within your company can be an excellent next step in creating and fostering a supportive workforce culture. In addition, it can drastically improve the landscape of your workforce struggles. But time is money, and the mention of mentorship programs – especially in the trades – often brings about groans of resistance.  

Before the wall of resistance is built, it is important to recognize how mentorship programs benefit a company’s bottom line. For starters, mentorships improve relationships, which enhance employee connection, buy-in, and loyalty, ultimately decreasing costly employee turnover rates. Mentorship programs can also help companies efficiently and effectively target development tools and resources. 

Kurt Baum of Otto Baum Company, Inc., knows that in any of the trades, employee motivation is a crucial variable in finding and retaining skilled labor. “Motivation is a talent that comes from within. I cannot put motivation in a person. Finding those employees that have that motivation is the true star,” stated Baum.   

Mentorship programs are an excellent tool in identifying motivation levels and pulling out those true stars. As Baum put it:  

“There are three categories of employees. First, you have the As, who are highly motivated. These are the leaders, and the ones that will be successful. These are every employers’ dream. Next are the B-players. These are good people who follow directions and make the A-players look good. And when the A-players look good, the B-players are also challenged to raise up their own levels. Then, there are the C-players. These are the ones who are continually late, are the complainers, and are the ones who eat up all of a foreman’s time. C-players can be toxic to the company culture and can bring down the B-players, if given the chance.”  

Mentorship research supports Baum’s thinking and adds another layer to it. Through mentorships, companies can quickly and easily identify both the motivation level and the performance level of each employee. An unmotivated employee isn’t necessarily an underperforming employee, and the reverse is also true. Being able to determine if an employee is unmotivated and toxic can guide leaders to swiftly make a change. The removal of a toxic C-player can elevate the efficiency and productivity of all employees.   

In contrast, an underperforming but motivated C-employee should be viewed as a tremendous opportunity. Mentorship can quickly identify these employees, and development steps can promptly be put into action. Mentorship relationships have proven to be very successful in identifying underperforming but highly motivated employees. Without a mentorship program, companies risk losing this insight and a potential future superstar employee. 

Identifying your A-players also carries tremendous value. The A-level players are your emerging leaders. They are the ones that will help grow your company into the future; they are the ones that need to be brought into the folds of your succession planning efforts, and sooner rather than later. Mentors can quickly and easily identify these superstars, and these employees can then quickly and easily become valued mentors themselves.  

That then leaves us with what Baum categorized as the B-level players: the largest percentage of the workforce, the mid-level performers, and often the forgotten middle. These often overlooked employees should be viewed as your company’s biggest opportunity. Mentorship programs give these employees a voice and can help to inspire and motivate them to strive for the next level. In that pursuit, they also challenge the A-players, ultimately elevating the entire team.  

It is only through authentic, real conversation that the true motivation and performance level of employees can be identified, and mentorship programs are an excellent tool for bringing about these realizations. “Imagine how much more relevant and successful our entities could be, simply by bringing experienced leaders into community and collaboration with young professionals,” stated Sladek.  

Tips for Starting a Mentorship Program 

Starting a mentorship program may seem daunting, costly, and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, Dr. Lisa M. Aldisert says it can be accomplished in 3 easy steps: 

  1. Enlist the help of employees and adopt a peer-to-peer mentor approach. Supervisors should not serve as mentors to their direct reports. The goal of mentorship is coaching, not supervising. Peers serve as excellent mentors, opening the door to honest conversation, the sharing of knowledge, and the invitation for questions. 
  1. Start small and grow from there. Invite a small number of employees to pilot your program. This allows for program guidelines, goals, and desired outcomes to be tested and altered as needed.   
  1. Start at the top. Leader support is critical to program success. Executive leadership needs to be involved in the creation of the program guidelines (such as meeting topics and frequency), goals, and desired outcomes, as well as be debriefed on the progress of the pilot program from start to finish. Implementing monthly or bi-monthly CEO roundtable discussions that all mentees are invited to can add another valuable layer to your mentorship program.  

Step #2: Employee Acceptance 

“Engaging people is impossible until you understand them, which can only come from time spent pursuing a relationship with them,” stated Sladek. In today’s social media saturated society, myths about the younger generations abound. From those myths, stereotypes are formed; in part, those stereotypes are hindering companies from successfully recruiting, engaging, and retaining talent.   

Comments such as: “Young workers do not have any work ethic,” “the younger generation doesn’t want to work,” and “they are only there to get paid and do as little as possible,” are just a sampling of several stereotypes shared on the MCAA workforce survey. These misconceptions are creating an obstacle to employee engagement. A leader who believes these comments, even if just a little bit, is more likely to negatively label younger job applicants and employees. These labels make it extremely difficult for true relationships to form. And “when a relationship is non-existent, that’s when unconscious bias and distrust creep in,” warned Sladek.   

Conversely, when leaders are in relationship with employees, collaboration resides, trust is built, and ultimately loyalty reigns, once again decreasing the occurrence of employee turnover.  

One focus group respondent boasted – rightfully so – that his company, that has been in existence for over 35 years, has always experienced a near 90% retention rate. Adding that his 115 employees “are like family to him, whether they have been with him for 30 years or 1 year.” He prides himself in developing and valuing his employees, and his employees reciprocate that value through their loyalty and dedication. A truly remarkable example of the power of being in relationship with employees.  

As one respondent insightfully stated, “We were young and stupid before we became old and wise.” When employees are accepted, a culture of inclusion and trust is formed, and stereotypes are pushed by the wayside, true employee engagement can then occur. 

Employee engagement myths: 

  • Employee engagement happens naturally 
  • Employee engagement is a Human Resources effort 
  • Millennials are impossible to engage 
  • Hire for skills 
  • More fun = more engaged 
  • Engagement is driven by managers, not the CEO 

 Step #3: Putting People First 

As Sladek has learned, “to put people first is to value people more than your profits,” and “organizations that put people first are responsive to employee needs, resilient and capable of change, experience less turnover, positively contribute to their communities, and observe greater profitability overall.”  

In today’s Talent Economy, people are a company’s most valuable asset. Investing in employees and putting them first can have an immediate and positive affect on a company’s bottom line. When employees feel valued, their engagement increases, and they become spokespeople for your company, inviting other strong candidates into the mix. Recruitment, engagement, and retention are all positively affected by putting people first.  

Brad Reed of L.F. Jennings, shared a story of a young man who came to him for a job. He was newly married, and he and his wife were expecting their first child. It was immediately evident this young man was a hard worker. Reed’s company made the decision to invest in this young man’s development and enrolled him in their apprenticeship program. Today, he is among the top foremen. This story is an excellent example of what can happen when companies put people first.  

Career pathing is an excellent people first approach. As one focus group member shared, “career pathing in our company has saved our company.” His employees value the career path options and opportunities available to them. His company’s career path model includes:  

  • 3 levels of laborers 
  • Apprentice 
  • Journeyman  
  • 3 levels of foreman 
  • 2 levels of superintendent.  

Right from the start, employees are exposed to the vast opportunities in front of them, and employees instantly feel valued. On-the-job training, skills cross-training, and preparing employees for potential industry downturns is how this company puts its people first.  

Knowing what training topics employees want is important when shaping training initiatives.  

Here are the top training topics MCAA workforce survey respondents are interested in:  

  • Routine technical training on topics ranging from safety, to veneers, to silica, and everything in between. 
  • Leadership and management development  
  • Employee retention strategies 
  • Creating a culture of respect 
  • Recruiting, managing, and retaining younger generation employees 
  • Succession planning tactics 
  • Strategies for dealing with difficult employees 

In a tight job market, putting people first also gives companies a competitive advantage as people want to work where they are valued. Jim Painter, of the Florida Concrete Mason Education Council, shared that in Florida, where the unemployment rate is at 3.7%, focusing on employee development and putting people first is critical. “Employers need to show employees they are trying to do what is best for them as individuals in everything they do,” stated Painter. 

Masonry is a “transient profession,” explained Dan Belcher, Director of Workforce Development for the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). Once brick and block are up, workers move on to the next job. “It is part of the construction process, but the companies who are showing an interest in the betterment of the people tend to keep more people around,” stated Belcher. This illustrates the true power of people first.   

In the third and final portion of XYZ’s Whitepaper, you’ll find the three remaining steps to preparing for a multi-generational workforce. 

Words: Sarah Sladek and Heather Thomton-Stockman
Photos: XYZ University, sturti, vitranc, warchi