For almost a decade, talent recruitment has been a looming topic for the plumbing, heating, cooling and piping (PHCP) industry. The Baby Boomer generation is beginning to retire and the millennial generation, also referred to as Gen Y, has officially taken over as the majority of the workforce. While the need to find young professionals has been met with urgency in various ways from affinity groups to mentorship program, there is now a second concern at hand: how do we keep the young talent that we get?
According to Gallup Polls, 21 percent of millennials reported having changed jobs within in 2018. Gallup Polls reported that this number is nearly three times higher than generations outside of the demographic. The same poll revealed that 60 percent of millennials said they were open to a different job opportunity.
While the reason for changing jobs is not always unanimous among millennials, the stereotype of job-hopping does seem to be one that millennials wear with pride. The stereotypes about millennials’ career choices run the gamut, from requirements of work-life balance to the need for napping pods. With the understanding that millennials’ dream job list can be detailed, it’s interesting to look at the industries where millennials are landing.
In 2017, the Library of Economics and Liberty reported that 64 percent of millennials said they would not work in construction, even if they earned $100,000 or more. Another 2017 study, from Paychex, showed that manufacturing has one of the lowest percentages of millennial employees of all industries at 31.8 percent.
Quantitative research will continue to reveal millennial work habits and patterns now that the generation is well into its careers. Plumbing Engineer magazines’ parent brand, PHCPPros, has committed to the qualitative work that will help us understand how young professionals are entering and maneuvering throughout our industry through our “Millennials On The Move” spotlights and feature story reporting.
Following is a Q&A that aligns with that reporting. In 2019, U.S. Engineering participated in panel on recruiting women into the industry at the Women in the Mechanical Industry (WiMI) Conference. A full-service mechanical contractor, for more than 125 years U.S. Engineering has been committed to providing solutions for facilities. As a company that has evolves throughout generations, PHCPPros found it fitting to broaden the conversation from recruiting women to retaining young professionals in order learn some best practices on how this mechanical contract has been getting it done. The following team members were interviewed: Rebecca David, vice president of Human Resources; Desiree Sharp, Recruiting Manager; and Sarabeth Gandara, Preconstruction Engineer.
PE: Can you start by giving our readers a by-the-numbers demographical breakdown of the young professionals working at U.S. Engineering?
DS: As far as millennials that we have at our company, we have 45 percent field employees. “Field” for us means union professionals. And then actually working in an office location, is 43 percent.
PE: Regarding the influx of millennials in the workforce, have you all felt that when out recruiting?
DS: Certainly. So, we have an internship program that focuses on recruitment for interns and entry-level professionals to come into our organization. So yes, that plays a part into that. But, our full-time, more senior positions that aren’t entry level, we are not necessarily participating in recruiting events for those. We’re doing other sourcing methods.
PE: The oldest millennials are closer to 40 years old, at this point. Is U.S. Engineering seeing more millennials in leadership within the company?
DS: Yes. Interestingly enough, we have quite a few that are executives that are actually in their early 40s. There are a lot of millennials in our management committee and other key positions.
PE: As U.S. Engineering has welcomed young professionals, Gen Y and Gen Z specifically, have you all changed your workplace and company culture?
SG: The culture here is just very inviting and welcoming. I mean, I’ve only been here a year, but the culture has changed in an effort to better retention. And because of it, it’s become more attractive to young people like me. It’s a team environment. You can go talk to your boss or your co-worker or your boss’s boss, and they’re going to be able to talk to you. But, they also enjoy you bringing up innovative ideas, and they want you to give it a shot. I’m a millennial. I love challenge. I like to not do the same thing over and over again. I like to try to do something new, and that is definitely fostered in the culture here.
RD: Sarabeth definitely represents what we love about millennials and how they contribute to our organization. Definitely that fresh perspective and challenging the status quo. It helps us with our vision of being innovative.
DS: To kind of add to that, our technology team was pretty much started by a millennial. That group has grown and is being run by a millennial, as well. Obviously, a certain stereotype is that they’re very technology driven. We are certainly seeing those effects as well in a very positive way, challenging the status quo and things like that.
SG: The construction industry as a whole, to me, is struggling to catch up with the times. I know I said this when I was at WiMI, but when I was looking for places to work, I made a judgment based on an office space and if I wanted to sit there for forever, because I know construction has grueling hours. So, I wanted to be at a place where I was comfortable and didn’t feel like I was in a dungeon. But, to that point too, I could tell that U.S. Engineering was a very innovative and technology-driven company because there weren’t thousands of plans all around the office that were yellowing and old and falling off the shelf. Everybody had a computer or an iPad or they were using multiple monitors, and that was just an attractive environment as well.
PE: For Gen Z students in college, what has U.S. Engineering changed in its recruiting to reach them?
DS: We are trying to get the candidates where they are. So, if that means texting them a message, that has been very helpful, and they are obviously very responsive to stuff like that. Also, just trying to do new things and fun things. As far as the recruiting side, I know Sarabeth has participated in an ice cream social at one of the schools that they went to. And then just in the internship program itself while the students are here, we are definitely doing things that they would find very fun as opposed to it being driven by a leader that may not be as “in touch.” The program is successful if we are converting interns to full-time employees. That has definitely been a deliberate initiative of ours, and we are trying to get better at every turn.
SG: Last summer to kind of appeal to the Gen Z we learned they communicate on a different level. They like to be connected all the time. We have our own like intranet site. Before they came on board last summer, our team members got together and created an intern site within that intranet. It’s kind of like a landing page. It has tools for them to use. The construction industry is littered with abbreviations, so it gave them kind of a key for abbreviations and links to sites that gave them a 101 on mechanical systems. We also had a discussion board, so if they wanted to post anything or had questions that they could communicate with interns within the Rocky Mountain region. If they were here or even out in Kansas City, there were interns out there in preconstruction, it opened up that communication pathway for them to just have a sounding board really. We had a little photo stream that went across, which was just fun because got to see all of the happenings throughout the internship. They would upload their photos. And then, just a calendar to check. It was kind of just like a hub for them to go to for their summer if they needed anything that they couldn’t get from us. It was an easy place to drop things we thought would be helpful.
PE: And, in what is U.S. Engineering doing to indirectly recruit future professionals?
DS: We’re doing a lot in that space, because we realize that that is our future, and that’s kind of the long game, right? We’ve been very engaged in several high school robotics programs throughout the Kansas City and Rocky Mountain market. We have also created an externship program, which basically helps us tap into the community segment by inviting 10 teachers into our organization to work on a project, so that they have that perspective that they’re able to share with their students. So, that kind of helps us build a bridge, as well as helps us develop that partnership. This is very new, so it’s something that we are working with, and we’re obviously looking to improve it and make it better as well. It’s something that we’re certainly excited about. It’s getting to the teachers to help them understand, because the challenge, I think, is the awareness piece. If students are exposed and more aware of certain career paths, then it’s something that they might consider once they’re at that stage looking for those types of opportunities. That’s kind of a big initiative. We also partner with the NICE program. NICE stands for National Institute of Construction Excellence. They focus on middle school students and projects within that demographic. And then, just very recently, Rebecca and I met with someone that was a part of the Kauffman Foundation , which is local to Kansas City. They are doing a lot of real-world learning initiatives.
RD: The Kauffman Foundation really has a movement across the country. We’re definitely engaging with them and other people who are passionate about this to get involved in some programs that create multiple pathways for careers for young people. Kind of that notion that not everyone needs to go to college. There are many different programs, one of them being micro-schools within high schools where they’re developing certificate programs for skilled trades or certain skilled competencies and such. Any time we have an opportunity where we’re connecting education to the corporate world it can be a win-win for everyone involved. It’s opening the eyes of the students to what are the possibilities for them, and it can help us down the road with our talent pipeline. We’re always interested in those kinds of things. Our CEO Tyler Nottberg helped found an alliance for early childhood education. So, he’s very passionate about that topic and has been huge in helping connect us with these types of programs through his network as well.
PE: Has U.S. Engineering discovered any quick-fixes or low-hanging fruit when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent in the PHCP trades?
RD: First of all, I don’t think there is an easy fix or any low-hanging fruit, necessarily. I think it’s a challenge. But, I think that society is embracing the challenge a little bit better now by again, going back to helping young people understand that they have career options. And maybe it’s different than what their parents or brothers or sisters did. So, reaching people at a younger age when they’re in middle school or high school or even grade school, and saying, “Hey, do you know what a pipefitter is or a plumber is?” We have sponsored robotics teams in the past. They have these pretty epic competitions. The thought that we had when we started sponsoring them was, “These are smart kids that have a passion for making something that performs a job.” So, this is sort of a captive audience to us. It gets them thinking about opportunities for their future. I think that’s a key. Other things would just be things like flexible workforces as much as possible. We’re a union contractor so we don’t always have as much flexibility necessarily with our field team members. But you know, what are your benefit offerings? Staying competitive there. Making sure you’ve got the right technology. For so many years, construction technology really was stagnant, and now it’s kind of exploding. Making it exciting. When you talk about how you’re going into a middle school perhaps and telling those students what our industry is all about it’s not a quick fix, but you’re really getting them to understand. I think the ROI will be down the road.
PE: To close, is there a call-to-action you would give to the PHCP industry regarding talent recruiting and retention?
SG: This is my soapbox and something that I was looking for in a company: IT departments. The ones that didn’t have IT departments made it really frustrating, because you knew the youngest person in the company would become IT. So I would definitely say a company that’s looking to attract the next generation in the workforce needs to make sure it has an IT department.
And, I think the most impactful thing that a mechanical contractor and someone in the mechanical industry can do is just be present around all of your potential recruits. Whether that means if you don’t intend on hiring them, if you still offer your help with school projects or career advice, just connecting to them beyond them being the next person that’s sitting at a desk at your company. That means a lot, and its shows that this industry truly is a family industry and can be a place that they stay can long term. So, just being intentional about being present I think is very important.
DS: That’s an interesting question. I think because the world is evolving and we’re still learning about the next generation, I don’t think we know everything that there is to know. But, I think that as long as we stay committed to learning about them and being flexible and agile and dedicated to trying to stay up to date with things, I think that’s our best shot.
RD: I’m 53, so I’m definitely a Gen X’er and a little bit on the bubble almost of being a Baby Boomer. But, I do get really annoyed when, and it’s less so now, but I think when millennials started coming to age in the workforce, you heard all that negativity. And now you kind of hear it a little bit out there about, “Oh my gosh, now we have the Gen Z’ers. Oh my gosh, what is the world going to come to?” Well, let me tell you. One thing is just you’ve got to embrace it. It’s here. We’ve got multiple generations in the workforce. We can learn as much from them as what we have to offer. Do they have expectations? Yes they do. But I’ll tell you what, they have a lot to offer. The younger generations have a lot to offer. A more diverse workforce is a more stable, high-performing workforce.