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April 2021

Building a team in a tight labour market?

01 Apr 2021, Business Tips, Learn, Prove Your Know How

Putting together a high-performing building crew is always a challenge – and an even bigger one in a tight labour market. Business coach Graeme Owen provides advice on how to do it right

So, you think you can’t get good builders? This is a common issue when labour is tight. Builders ask for more money or leave to join a team that pays more. Building companies start competing with each other for staff from an ever-decreasing pool. Your best team member leaves and starts up in business. Margins are squeezed and, unfortunately, some building companies go under.

But it is possible to overcome a tight labour market – if you are prepared to respond in a well-thought-out way. No matter how challenging the current climate is, it is only by taking decisive action that you will overcome it. What’s more, by doing so, you will not only get through this current time, but be better prepared for future challenges.

So, here are the five things you can do.

1. Be totally committed

Building and retaining a great team of builders doesn’t happen overnight – it takes effort, patience and decisive action by you, the business owner. More importantly, it is founded on your strong conviction that developing a highly skilled team is not only a priority, but inevitable. There is no other option. There is no Plan B.

As in any worthwhile venture, there will be setbacks. You won’t get it right the first time. You will make mistakes and some will be painful. There will be people you will need to let go and your growing team will make mistakes. But, if you persevere in your vision,
you will get there. It’s not luck, it’s hard work – 95% give up. If you persevere, not only will your business grow, but you will grow personally!

2. Develop your plan

As in any high-quality build, a well-thought-out plan ensures better outcomes. This holds true in recruiting, training and building a team. The better the plan, the better the team.

Develop a clear picture of the kind of people you want in your ideal team, and the roles they will be filling.

Next, detail the steps you will take to advertise, interview, recruit and train.

Thirdly, outline the processes you will follow to ensure your team delivers what you expect. Finally, include a career track that shows
how motivated employees can grow with the company.

Now, while your plan should be comprehensive, it need not be exhaustive. The important thing is to have your overall plan clear in your mind, so you don’t find yourself in a tight spot with no direction.

Without a doubt, your plan will need to change as your situation changes and the market moves, but you will always have a plan, based on the best information you have at that time. You will never be at a loss as to what to do.

3. Create multiple doors

Many builders rely on only one method of adding staff. It could be word of mouth, online advertising, Facebook posts or any other single method. While it works, everything is great.

However, in the real world, nothing is static. Things are always changing and what works today may suddenly stop working tomorrow. So, if you have only one door into the company and that door is blocked, then panic may ensue! I’m sure you have met at least one building business owner desperate for builders.

So, ensure that you offer multiple ways for potential team members to join your company. For example, you might consider:

  • Speaking at the local high school.
  • Offering apprenticeships to school leavers.
  • Advertising in the travel hospitality and tourism sector.
  • Offering adult apprenticeships to people needing a new career, a sales opportunity, or a general office administration role.
  • Advertising to mature builders looking to reduce their time on the tools and do pricing or project management.
  • Talking to current staff about friends and family who may be interested in a building career.
  • Posting team stories on Facebook and your website etc.

The more doors you develop, the more you will discover.

Further, avoid making the mistake of only looking for those people you need right now. Rather, look for good people continuously, so that when you find them you can either add them to your team or to a waiting list.

4. Stay the course

It’s always right to quit something that isn’t working, but it’s a big mistake to quit something that could work with a little improvement.

For example, a kitchen company advertised their services in a local paper and got no response. The obvious thing would have been to quit local paper advertising. Right? Wrong! Two weeks later they inserted exactly the same advert, but with an offer, and generated 11 phone calls. Exactly the same ad, with a slight modification. The key learning? Keep going. Test, modify, retest. Only quit something after you’ve tried several modifications.

It’s the same when building a team. Get the best advice you can when developing your team-building plan, writing adverts and position descriptions etc. Run your adverts in low-cost media first, then check responses, make small changes and
test again. But most importantly keep testing. Don’t quit!

Also, don’t spend up large on recruitment adverts that you have not tested in a low-cost environment! Some advertising never works, so testing in low-cost media is essential.

5. Grow your skill

Don’t worry if you think you have little natural ability to grow and lead a team. You can’t create any more natural ability, but you can learn new skills. Talent just determines how fast you learn those skills. Sure, the very few with the most natural ability are likely to rise to the very top of their field, but those with relatively less talent, but who nevertheless learn the skills, also achieve a significant amount.

So, don’t panic if recruitment isn’t something that comes naturally – just practice the steps and grow your skill instead. It will get you a great team.


Graeme Owen is a builders’ business coach at thesuccessfulbuilder.com. Since 2006, he has helped builders throughout New Zealand get off the tools, make decent money, and get more time in their lives. Grab a copy of his free book: The 15 Minute Sales Call Guaranteed To Increase Your Conversion Rate: thesuccessfulbuilder.com/book-15-min-sales-call or join Trademates and connect with builders who are scaling too: www.facebook.com/groups/TradeMates


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  1. dpmal@slingshot.co.nz says:


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