It’s no secret that the painting industry is experiencing a crunch. In my decades of working with painting contractors, I’ve never seen a time quite like this, where the demand for services is high and the labor supply is so low. What’s more, I don’t see the problem going away anytime soon. Prospective employees aren’t even looking our way. The trucking industry and fast food chains have been stealing our employees. Additionally, the trades — once an acceptable alternative to college — has lost the allure. The message high school students are getting is that if you don’t go to college, well, you’re not going to amount to anything. To make matters worse, employees are leaving your company to take a job for one dollar more an hour. So, what do we do?
This article will not focus on the concept of “recruit like you market.” While I believe we do need to get more aggressive in our marketing for employees, I want to focus on a more important issue: creating an awesome place for people to learn and grow so that they’ll stay! I believe many contractors have not built the infrastructure and culture to take great people and teach them the trades. The culture that exists within many contractors is not conducive to a training culture. Master craftsmen and crew leaders often express the following: “Can’t you just get me another experienced painter so I can get this job done right and on time?” Not only is training not a core competency, it barely exists. Okay, owners, listen up: You own this. You own the culture. You must change your organizational culture to one that thrives on training, teaching, learning and advancement! You must communicate this until you are blue in the face. You get what you tolerate. How bad do you want it?
Picture this: You’re running a job fair at your company and you have three young people, with varying experience, on the hook. You and your two crew leaders are talking with these candidates about what it’s like to work at your company. One of your crew leaders points to a large “Learning Pathway” poster up on the wall. It shows the skills needed to advance from Apprentice 1 to Apprentice 2, then Painter 1, Painter 2, Master Craftsman and Job Leader. Compensation increases are tied to advancement. Each position has a detailed job description associated with it. Every crew leader is a trainer and is evaluated on how well they train and advance new employees. Suddenly, you see the eyes of a young potential employee light up. They see your organization as a career, not just a job. He’s been looking for a path in life and you just gave it to him. Now, project your vision forward: When that apprentice starts, on day one you give him a welcome party of sorts. His name is posted in the office and you have coffee and snacks to celebrate his arrival. You give him an orientation on company values, safety, his job description, learning pathways and your systems. Then, you (the owner) take him to his crew leader, who is his supervisor and mentor. The employee is evaluated for culture/values during the first two weeks. If he passes the first two weeks, he goes into the Apprentice 1 level in the Learning Pathway.
In your vision, you also have a leadership training program that takes advanced field employees with management potential through a crew leader training manual in a six-week program. You’re proud that you’ve documented the job management process and can now teach it to key employees. You have a culture of engagement. Employees have the opportunity to be the best version of themselves and are appreciated, rewarded and have a voice.
I recently had the opportunity to work with Dustin Zupancic from Dreamscape Painting as part of APC’s Mission: Vacation contest. Over the course of four months, Dustin worked on his business to put employee development and leadership systems in place. Among the results: He created a learning pathway for his employees, promoted a star employee to lead his training committee, started an Aspiring Leaders program for future leaders and hired a director of operations. The person he chose to lead his training program is an employee who showed a desire to advance and grow. Dustin just needed to step back, let go and give him the opportunity. Dustin went from being a supreme doer to seeing his role as a coach and leader of leaders. Dustin is working his way out of the hourglass! You can too. This is an environment where great people want to work.
As a leader, taking the steps above will help you get out of the hourglass, where all things have to run through you, and create a great place to work. Now, with this culture, go recruit like you market. You have the organization ready to train great people into good painters!