Finding skilled operators in the construction industry these days is tough. According to a recent survey from the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate, 79% of companies plan to add employees in 2019 — but 78% report that filling open positions is difficult. What’s a construction firm to do?
As you’re reviewing resumes and conducting interviews, think about this: Many equipment operation skills can be taught, but many of the intangibles that make an employee a good long-term fit cannot. Look for these five essential characteristics when hiring, then consider investing in training to bring workers with potential up to speed on the more technical side of operation.
1. Team player
Machine operators may spend much of their day alone in the cab, but construction is a team sport. There’s no time for petty arguments and grudges among employees. Everyone’s job relies on someone else’s, and the whole team needs to come together to make sure the work gets done accurately, on time and on budget. Look for candidates who have experience working on team projects, especially in high-pressure or time-constrained situations.
2. Good communicator
Your operators don’t have to be seasoned orators or secret novelists, but they do need to articulate themselves clearly. Asking questions, voicing concerns and communicating decisions to supervisors and coworkers are important parts of the job. So is crafting emails, texts, reports and other documentation that helps keep a construction project running smoothly. Pay attention to the way potential employees communicate with you during the interview process — and just as important, how well they listen.
3. Technology pro
“Pro” may be too strong a word, but definitely seek out employees who aren’t afraid of or resistant to technology. It’s everywhere in construction these days, and it’s not going away. You want operators who recognize the value technology can bring to the jobsite and are willing to learn how to use it, both in their machines and off. Be sure to inquire about a prospect’s familiarity with computers, software, apps and other systems — even video gaming can be great experience for the job!
4. Eager learner
This characteristic goes hand in hand with #3. Things are constantly evolving in construction — technology, tools, safety procedures, jobsite rules and regulations, even the machines themselves. Operators need to be adaptable, open to change and enthusiastic about staying up to date. Ask prospective workers about something new they’ve learned lately. It doesn’t have to be earthshattering, just an indication that they’re curious and teachable.
5. Problem solver
There’s no such thing as a problem-free jobsite. Machines break down. Materials run short. Weather creates delays. Equipment operators must be able to think on their feet, react quickly, troubleshoot issues and make smart decisions — sometimes without calling in a supervisor for approval. Think about a couple scenarios (pull them from your own real-world experiences) you can raise in job interviews that will show you how a candidate might react in a tricky situation.
There’s no sign the operator shortage is ending anytime soon. Rather than waiting for that elusive seasoned pro to knock on your door, seek out prospective employees who possess these indispensable qualities instead. As long as they have basic machine skills, a willingness to learn and a great attitude, you should be able to convert them from newbie to effective operator in no time.