Best Practices — Working in Construction Industry (NYC Edition)

This Q&A (answered by a workforce development professional who worked with 80-100 companies in the Construction industry — in varying trades such as, general laborer, carpenters, etc.) is specifically for those who are looking for work in the Construction Industry and how workforce development professionals can help. This applies to employment coordinators, job placement specialists, job developers, account managers, job counselors etc. as they are gatekeepers and advocates for job seekers, in which this will help give an idea of how to counsel job seekers into getting into the field.

Image via Raconteur
  • What is promising in this career, past and future?
    • There are always things being built, so the sector will always be here, especially in NYC.
    • The trades — the ability to specialize in a skill or art form, something you can work towards, becoming an expert in a skillset.
    • Unions — everyone wants to be part of the Union and is a big draw for construction workers, however not everyone is aware of the politics and how to apply.
  • What is the path to getting into a Union?
    • Path 1: Pre-apprenticeship → Apprenticeship → Work in field → Union (Takes time and commitment, depending on the trade — the time/difficulty varies)
    • Path 2: Open-shop is experience based, advocating for yourself and learning on the job and pursuing opportunities in the field, pursuing training on your own time
  • How does recruiting work for candidates with no experience for construction jobs?
    • You need thick skin for this field. Being precise and direct with your pitch to forepersons and site supervisors. Employers have a lot of options (finding walk-ons) but if you can provide them with a skilled worker, you set a good precedent for promising candidates. Send out your most qualified and skilled candidates first to build trust (i.e.. sending strong electrician candidates)
    • For entry level positions, they look for attitude, work ethic, and dedication. A pain point for employers are employees not showing up on time and not being sober.
  • How do I screen candidates for construction jobs?
    • If it is a skilled person, you need to make sure their skills and experience are legit. You need to test them with job specific questions to the trade (terms, processes, scenario questions), and ask them for how much they are looking for (a skilled worker will know their worth)
    • For entry level, ask if they can complete the basics — can you show up on time, can you commit, can you tolerate the realities of the job (weather, physical tasks), and their interest in construction. Be honest with them about the realities of the work.
  • How do you respond to employer feedback on members working at their sites?
    • Don’t feel like you have to apologize for a specific person. This is not a rare situation for there to be employee feedback. Let the employer know that you will follow up with the member and the option that you are also looking for a replacement. The more timely the turn around, the better since construction companies are focused on project timelines as it affects their finances.
    • You will never be able to avoid challenges. You just need to be able to move with a sense of urgency.
  • Recommendations to address members when waiting to hear back from construction jobs:
    • If it’s an active job and the candidate is waiting for very long, move on to other options. The employer is most likely uninterested.
    • Avoid waiting jobs since they aren’t always guaranteed (change in timeline, pending permit and contract approval, etc.). Have them contact you closer to the start date.
    • Best bet is to keep looking until you have an immediate start date. Take “I’ll call you back” as a no. The norm is a same-day job offer.
  • How do I know I am working with a legit employer? How do I vet a company?
    • There are a lot of shady companies. Speak to your candidates after their interviews to assess the company. Look out for red flags (i.e. interview location, feedback from employers, etc). Scout out the location yourself.
    • Transparency with the candidates builds trust. They will keep coming back and you can rely on them to assess employers.
  • What are the pros and cons for open-shop for entry-level candidates?
    • Unions pay more is a pro. Being an employee of the union is a con due to the wait time after your contract ends (working 4-5 months of the year, starting at the bottom of the list) since you are sharing opportunities. You cannot work outside of the union for side jobs because you will be expelled. You need to work positions or jobs outside of your union position.
  • What are some off-the-book tips?
    • You need to understand that the industry is very tribal. A lot of electricians tend to be Hispanic. Concrete laborers tend to be Polish, Russian or Jamaican due to trades in their place of origin. Employers have these notions and hire based on them. Employees must have thick skin, trying to stick it out. Plumbers and electricians require attention to detail.
  • How can we continue to empower our members in the construction sector?
    • Educating our members on workers’ rights and how to navigate the filing process.
    • Changing the notion that you need “thick skin” in this industry because it perpetuates discrimination and unprofessional work practices acceptable.
    • Make change by working with a small construction owner and be their HR and their support system to create a different environment.
Image via Redshift by Autodesk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s