The Labor Side of The Supply Chain

labor-supply-chain.gifWhen thinking about the “supply chain,” one rarely thinks about labor, rather it’s about getting the product to the jobsite at the right time with the right specifications. The steps of this product supply chain are often well thought out, including establishing relationships with both distributors and manufacturers that one feels they can trust and rely upon when the time comes.

But without establishing relationships with trusted suppliers of labor, a contractor cannot meet the needs of the customer, in spite of having all the materials on the jobsite. The dilemma a contractor faces on the labor, or workforce development side of the equation, differs drastically from the equipment or product side for a number of reasons.

First, a contractor can usually pick up the phone, put in an order for product, and have a comfort level that the products will be available when needed. There are certainly exceptions to this, but there are also normally other sources (distributors or manufacturers) to get the required products. For the workforce side of the supply chain, one normally is not able to pick up the phone and order the type of additional workers you’ll need to complete a job.

Right up front, it’s important to state that there is no “silver bullet” to developing a workforce. Most of you that have been involved with the skilled trades for any period of time already know this, but what I would like to accomplish here is provide you with a framework and more tools to help solve this problem. From all the statistics that we have seen, the workforce shortage in the skilled trades is only going to worsen as our current workers age and move into retirement.

What we’ll explore here is not only applicable for the large contractor who may have a recruiter on staff, but we will also look at some simple strategies and activities small contractors can also implement. You may also have heard of some of these recommended activities before, but I also ask you to take a look at how many of them are you actively and consistently doing?


To start, let’s develop an overall workforce development plan. Below is a basic plan that you can start with and modify according to your individual company needs.

First, you must define your company’s individual positions with a job description. If you don’t have job descriptions, IEC has them available for you (call your chapter or national office) ranging from helper to superintendent. You can then modify them to meet your individual needs. Here’s an example of a typical range of positions you should list:

  • Helper
  • Apprentice
  • Electrician
  • Crew Leader
  • Foreman
  • Superintendent
  • Estimator
  • Project Manager

For the smaller contractor, you’ll combine some of these positions while larger contractors will have many more steps or specializations. The important part is that you are clear about the duties, and even of greater value, the skills that are needed for that position. In this manner, when you begin your search, you’ll know exactly what you are looking for and therefore recognize it when you find it.

Next, be clear that there are three basic areas from which to fill these positions:

  1. Entry level/helper position (always outside of the company)
  2. Upper level from within the company
  3. Upper level from outside the company

labor_side2.gifWith this in mind, you can set out on a strategy to fill positions in these three basic ways. Let’s start with area one, entry level, and work our way up. However, fillin