How to build a reputation as an employer of choice

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Tips for builders to find and keep great talent

Across Australia, the HomeBuilder stimulus has been especially successful, spurring a massive demand for renovations and new detached homes. Some regions have recorded their highest activity levels in a decade – helping thousands of businesses and self-employed trades to thrive.
With the program’s overwhelming success has come an unexpected speed bump: severe shortages of skilled trades across the country.

What can an employer do to build and nurture a workplace environment that attracts and retains talented and hard-working employees, and positions them as an employer of choice?

Acute supply shortage

The latest HIA Trades Report for June 2021 shows that skilled trades remain in high demand in all regions of Australia. The data identifies that the shortage remains one of the most significant in the past 20 years.

The report’s index shows that while all trades are in short supply, bricklaying has the most acute shortage, with roofing and carpentry following closely behind. Electricians have the smallest shortage.

As a result, the price of skilled trades is 2.6 percent higher than in the June 2020 quarter, with all trades recording a price increase over the year to June, with the exception of joinery and painting which recorded small declines.

Attracting quality trades

So what can builders do to differentiate themselves in this competitive market and position themselves as a company that improves the situation of their employees and subcontractors?

Methods that top employers almost always use include things like offering staff salary and benefits which are equal to or above market rates, along with incentives such as flexible work and paid parental leave.

There is no one size fits all approach to being an employer of choice, but there is much value in looking at the needs of your trades and other staff and devising policies that fit those needs.

So what do tradespeople such as carpenters, roofers and plumbers say they need in order to perform well?

  • The employer creates a positive culture — they care about their trades, and take the time to create a physically and mentally safe workplace
  • The employer is organised, keeps to schedules and pays on time
  • The employer takes the time to catch up on your life, not just the work

It makes sense that trades want to work in a place where they are treated well and are cared for, paid on time, and have all the equipment they need to do their jobs safely and productively.

Proven strategies to attract and retain

We spoke to employer of choice builders about how they position themselves to attract great talent. It became clear there are five main areas of focus. They are:

Be organised and communicate well

Adam Bulic, the Director of award-winning, luxury multi-unit builder Bluestar Living, grew up on a building site and says attracting quality trades starts with good organisation.

“A tradesperson wants to be able to go to work, turn up, understand their scope of work, what they’re expected to do, to what quality, with what materials, and in what time frame,” Adam says.

“The trade doesn’t want to be asking questions and stopping every couple of hours to speak to a site manager to seek instructions.

“If that’s clear from the beginning, that’s a very good start. How do you do that? By having clear and effective communication. That can be verbal or in writing. For example, a framer will have a set of plans, they’ll have their engineering. We’re going to show them the take-off for the materials needed to do that work, with the relevant measurements, drawings, and selections that come with that project.

“I think communication is important because the trade knows exactly what’s expected of them, what they need to do and has all the relevant information.”

Pay on time

The builders we spoke to are adamant that employers must pay their trades on time in order to be well regarded, and while this may seem obvious, it can sometimes be an area of contention. Some trades struggle with setting expectations about payment, and this can lead to a resentful workplace culture.

Adam suggests agreeing on payment terms early on so trades don’t have to wonder if they’re going to get paid or not.

Respect and value the trade

Adam values finding people of good character and hires many tradespeople who are part of family businesses and focuses very strongly on those relationships.

“I think with builders or trades, like attracts like. I find that a lot of our tradespeople are family-based businesses, and that attracts quality trades and they’re appreciated,” he says.

It’s also crucial to show appreciation for what tradies do every day, because it’s hard work being outside.

“We’ve forgotten, we spend so much time inside in front of screens and on computers that we think software can run everything and it can’t – you need people to physically put stuff together,” Adam says.

“When you’re pouring concrete in the cold, or laying bricks and putting things together, it’s hard. It’s hard on the body. It’s important to have a good understanding of what they’re doing and what they’re going through, and how difficult it can be sometimes.”

Maintain a clean, well-organised site

Respect also involves providing a well-planned, clean site.

“You want to really try and service them, have everything ready for them, provide them with that information, provide them with a nice clean site,” Adam suggests.

“We’re really big on making sure that the sites are clean, they’re organised. Every person who walks on that site deserves to be in a clean and organised environment. It’s still a daily challenge – repeating yourself like I do with the kids to clean their room!” Adam laughs.

Use the same trades often

Adam advises trying to use the same trades all the time, rather than getting other trades externally.

“We try to create that family environment, where you create a team, and you build on that relationship,” he says.

“The framer for example, they’re following the concreter – if they’ve got issues they’ve already got that communication.”