On The Level: Rock Structure’s Guide to Recruiting and Retaining Construction Crew Members
On The Level: Rock Structure’s Guide to Recruiting and Retaining Construction Crew Members

How to Find (and Keep) the Best Crew

Rock Structures Guide to Recruiting and Retaining Construction Crew Members


Caitlin Maddock-Bahr | Social Media & Content Manager


In the construction industry, and skilled trades in general, we have been talking about labor shortage issues for years now. But the conversation is shifting as we put our focus on sustainable solutions, ways to not just address immediate needs but to build successful construction businesses and successful careers for laborers and operators. 

I recently spoke with Ryan Goodfellow, owner of Rock Structures and a 2020 Cat Ambassador, about his strategies on recruiting and retaining construction crews as well as advice for new operators. 

Social Media as a Recruiting Tool

The name Rock Structures might be familiar from Instagram, and that’s because Ryan has amassed a pretty large following there within the dirt community. But did you know he started that account primarily as a recruitment tool?

“Social media works for some things, and not others,” Ryan says. “There is a variety of people out there who do this kind of work. With our Instagram reach being so big, we get a lot of interest in coming to work with us but sometimes we find that they may not have the right experience or be ready to move here.”

While he’s definitely had success recruiting laborers and operators through the Instagram community, Ryan also stresses that it’s important to be able to feel people out in terms of their interest and their fit for a position. Business owners - keep all that in mind when using social media as a recruiting tool.

How to Identify the Best Employees

What are some of the most important things Ryan, and other construction business owners, look for in job applicants?

  • Work ethic
    “Anyone can pick up a shovel, but not everyone is willing to work with a shovel. I need people who aren’t afraid pick up the shovel and use it when we need them to.”
  • Attitude
    “This isn’t an easy job, but it’s also not an overly hard job. Attitude is everything, and we need people who fit into our company culture and feel like family.”
  • Experience
    “If you want to be an operator, I need to know that you know how to do the specific type of work we have. You need to have directly related experience, like understanding site prep on a hillside. I need you to know how the ground work is done before you operate equipment on one of our sites. Typically that’s 5-8 years of experience to come in as an operator.”
Rock Structures recruitment tips
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Rock Structures recruitment tips
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Rock Structures recruitment tips
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Rock Structures recruitment tips
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Rock Structures recruitment tips
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Rock Structures recruitment tips
Rock Structures recruitment tips
Rock Structures recruitment tips
Rock Structures recruitment tips
Rock Structures recruitment tips

Aspiring Operators – This is For You!

I asked Ryan what advice he had for anyone who wants to be an operator, and the answer was don’t be afraid to put in the time and effort it’s going to take to learn.

“Laborer jobs will really lay the groundwork for your success,” says Ryan. “A lot of people see a machine and can get in it and move it around, but they don’t know what it takes to be productive with it.”

Here are some of Ryan’s tips for those of you just starting out:

  • Start as a laborer
    Spend 1-3 years on the ground learning, observing, and helping. This will make you versatile, and you’ll know everything you need to know to be a great operator. It’s important to be able to put all that visual knowledge of a job site to work. Ryan says that laborers make the best operators because they know the ins and outs of a job site and how to get everything done.
  • Be patient
    Be willing to work hard and put in your time with a crew. You need to learn how ground work is done before moving up.
  • Be willing to learn
    The more you learn, the faster you will have the ability to advance. Be ready for and open to in-the-moment training, and know how to apply that immediately on the job site.

Investing in Your Crew is Investing in Your Business

“Running a business is hard,” says Ryan. “It can be hard for smaller companies to find and retain good workers because of limits in upward mobility. Unless the company grows, there are limited operator positions.”

For Rock Structures, company culture is central to retaining a great crew. Here are a few ways Ryan and his team have invested time and resources into building a company culture for Rock Structures:

  • Reward employees for a job well done and for learning new skills
  • Thank employees for their work regularly
  • Respect family time and recognize that they work with you in order to provide for their families
  • Plan for pay raises
  • Make sure there are always opportunities to learn and grow
  • Take the time to teach and train (either on the job or through formal training)

How To Train Up Your Crew

As a business owner, and especially a small business owner, how do you ensure training for your team members?

“For us, it’s on the job, in the moment,” says Ryan. “As an owner, when you’re running around and checking on job sites, that’s when the greatest teaching moments come up. Pull them to the side, explain what they’re doing right and what or how they could be doing it better. Once they start applying that and they know you’re there to help them succeed and grow, that’s part of the foundation of your company culture and also what helps your business grow.”

As we all continue to address labor shortage issues, there are several ways that we can grow the pipeline of people interested in the construction industry. Ryan believes that technology is key for growing interest with the younger generation.

“There are a lot of younger people who want to get into this type of work but just don’t know how to get started,” says Ryan.

One thing business owners can do is provide opportunities.

“If someone reaches out to me, I try to give them an opportunity to show me what they can do. You can tell pretty quickly if someone is cut out for this type of work – it comes down to work ethic and attitude.”

Ryan encourages other business owners not to label people generationally, but to give them a shot, a chance to learn, and a supportive environment. This is how you grow a business and contribute to growing the industry. 

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Blog author Caitlin Maddock-Bahr
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Blog author Caitlin Maddock-Bahr

Caitlin Maddock-Bahr

Social Media & Content Manager

Caitlin Maddock-Bahr exercises her storytelling expertise as a social media & digital strategy manager. In this role, she not only helps Caterpillar connect with their audience, but helps customers connect with the brand.