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The lack of highly qualified applicants within the trades is not a new issue, but the COVID pandemic has undoubtedly made it more challenging. What was already a small talent pool is now shrinking even further, creating more concern about filling positions today and in the coming months. To shed some light on this latest issue, here’s a closer look at how COVID is impacting the ability to attract and retain skilled tradespeople as well as some advice for what to do about it.

The Impact of COVID on Hiring

By now, we’re all well-versed in the perfect storm that has caused a shortage of job candidates in the trades. Key factors affecting the shortage include retirement of the Baby Boomer workforce and a continuing decline in the number of people entering the trades. Now, along comes COVID, bringing with it a few more barriers to success.

Concerns about health and safety. New employees work with new people in new environments. That’s a lot of new and a lot of unknown. As a result, people who already have jobs may be opting to stay put, and people without jobs may be opting to sit out, especially those who already have health conditions that put them at greater risk.

Instability and insecurity. Small and midsized manufacturers have been hit hard by COVID. Forced to make deep cuts to personnel and implement other cost-cutting strategies, some have created an environment of uncertainty, making it more difficult to bring previous employees back after layoffs.

Relocation challenges. Businesses often rely on new hires to relocate closer to the jobsite. With the closures and limited services that have resulted from social distancing, moving from one location to another can be challenging. This can be a major deterrent for applicants from outside an employer’s geographic area.

How to Respond

When responding to a crisis, the answers often start with “re-”: reviewing, revisiting, rethinking, reworking. Just as you’ve likely done with other aspects of your business, taking a little time to review and rethink what you’re doing in relation to who you’re doing it for can lead you to simple changes in your hiring practices that can make a big difference.

Here are a few things for you to re-think about:

Your candidate profiles. The last few months have demanded that businesses respond and adapt to change. Now, apply those same demands to your job candidate profiles. For example, where you may have previously hired someone capable of operating one or two pieces of equipment, perhaps now it’s more prudent to hire someone who can run five or six. That way when production needs change, you already have the right personnel in place. Conversely, you may need to place more emphasis on the teachability of an applicant and less emphasis on a perfect skillset or work experience. This can allow you to hire someone for a specific role now and train them for other roles later.

Your interview process. As previously mentioned, one of the biggest factors that may be keeping applications out of your inbox is concern over health and safety, and conducting face-to-face interviews may not be the best option right now. Consider how you can accomplish this part of the hiring process safely, and clearly communicate how you’re handling interviews with potential candidates to put them at ease. Doing this will also alleviate the anxiety of employees who may be asked to participate in interviews.

Your current employees. Sometimes we spend so much energy on hiring the perfect candidate that we overlook the potential of the personnel we already have. In some cases, training a current employee to perform more technically challenging tasks or operate more complex machinery may offer a timelier solution to filling an empty position than searching outside of your organization for a highly qualified candidate. Investing in the professional growth of your employees also helps to build loyalty by showing employees that their contributions to your organization are important and valued.

Short-Term Fixes, Long-Term Challenge

Admittedly, these are short-term fixes for what is really a long-term challenge. You may get over a few COVID-related hurdles, but the growing issue of a shrinking talent pool isn’t going to leave with COVID. Collectively, the industry needs to generate more interest in the trades, and it needs to happen long before kids enter high school. Individual employers also need to do more to nurture relationships with their existing employees. Building an employee’s sense of value, purpose, and belonging is what creates loyalty, and the loyalty of great employees naturally attracts other great employees. This, perhaps more than anything else, will attract more people to these highly rewarding careers.

Article Contributor: Kent Keller, MANTEC Professional Business Advisor

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