By Brent Darnell

Workforce development has reached a crisis level. The number of projects moving forward continues to increase and worker demand (labor and management) continues to rise. That, along with the dwindling workforce, is already negatively impacting the industry. If we don’t take concrete steps now, this workforce development crisis has the potential to cripple the industry.

With that in mind, there are some very concrete steps companies can take to attract and retain the very best people:

1. Let Them Control Their Own Destiny
If you want to attract and retain people, give them as much autonomy as possible. Give them the ability to set their own work schedules and work the way that they want to work. This may be difficult with some projects, but there is always room to experiment. Many companies are toying with flexible work hours and ROWE (results oriented work environments), an approach wherein employees only know what their result should be and it’s up to them as to how and when and where they do the work to get that result.

2. Provide a Clear Career Path and Training to Get There
All workers, especially young workers, want a clear career path and the resources to attain the skills to be able to make it happen. If your company doesn’t have clear career paths for all employees, and the skills training needed to travel along those paths, this is the time to implement a program.

3. Make Sure Employees Know Your Why
Employees, especially younger ones, want to have a sense of purpose in their life and work. What is your company’s purpose? What is the project’s purpose? Do you articulate that and communicate it clearly on a regular basis? Every company and every project has a purpose, so tap into that purpose with your employees.

4. Make Their Lives Better
This is a simple concept, but perhaps not that easy. If you make your employees’ lives better, they will be more loyal to your company. So how do you do that? There are two areas that we see that can make your employees’ lives better. First, improve their finances. Hire someone to come in and help people set up budgets and pay off debt. Second, improve their health and well-being. Start a wellness program (formal or informal) and help them to be healthier and happier.

5. Create a Fun Place to Work
To many people in the industry, work and fun just doesn’t go together. Therefore, what can you do as an individual and a company to infuse more fun in your work, on your projects, and in your offices? Put in games, have contests, have laugh time. Start every meeting out with something fun and promote and encourage fun ideas of team, collaboration, and play.

Some of these ideas are pretty far out for folks, but if we don’t start embracing these kinds of changes, this workforce development issue will only worsen. Company leaders tell me that they can’t try the flexible work initiative because some people will just sit at home and watch television. What they are doing, then, is punishing the 90 percent who will actually honor this open way of working. If you are a company, push the envelope and start trying these new ideas. If you are an individual, be strategically subversive. Try some things and see if you get a good result. When you do, share it with the company.

Whether it is for you, your company, or for the industry, how we attract and retain people is vital to our livelihoods and the very industry in which we work. It’s time to take some action.

Brent Darnell is Owner of Brent Darnell International. He has been teaching emotional intelligence and people skills to the AEC Industry for the past 16 years and has helped thousands improve their social competence.