Chapter Corner

The Labor Side of The Supply Chain

Posted in: Features, April 2015

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, filling upper level positions from outside your company is the most pressing, and most difficult, area to fill.

Filling entry level positions within your company takes more of an investment in the process and will also take longer to see the results. However, once you have the process in place, it will continue to feed your workforce needs for years to come. In talking with Tony Varamo, Workforce Development Coordinator for Metropower, he says, “I always try to hire entry level workers based upon a ‘cultural fit’ with the company, which means the work ethic of the individual can be groomed by Metropower so that they become a lifetime employee.”

This is very important to understand, because it will guide you to which primary strategy you will use to fill your workforce. With that in mind, here’s a list of some ways to fill entry level positions, starting with the least amount of investment, and working your way up to more investment, or time, but greater return:

  • Referrals from current workers (this can also help with upper level positions) – consider paying a bonus to your workers whom refer good candidates to the company (watch the timing of the bonus; consider the level and longevity of the referred candidate).
  • Utilize the services of the local IEC chapter for candidates – this may vary according to each chapter’s level of budget and service.

  • Place an ad in a local newspaper, trade publication, or sports-related news source.

  • Seek out other organizations that can supply pre-screened candidates. Examples of these are Goodwill, Job Corps, other local job prep groups, and churches.

  • Establish a relationship with other cultural or non-profit organizations such as 4-H, Boy Scouts, and minority or other relevant groups in your area.

  • Create a Facebook (and/or Twitter) account for your company with the focus on job opportunities. Then learn how to grow your followers and boost your message.

  • Contact the local high school and offer to stop in and talk with students and assist the appropriate instructor. You can also contact your local IEC chapter to help establish an in-house apprenticeship program at the school (some are already doing this). This can be a significant ongoing feeder program to your workforce.

An important consideration when recruiting new workers, is that you will probably be dealing with the “Millennials,” those born between 1980 and the mid- 2000s. These are the largest generation in the U.S., representing one-third of the total U.S. population. While this is a whole other discussion, it is important to understand the difference, including the values of this population, as you focus on recruiting this age group. For example, millennials value balance in life, meaning family, work, and play, and are sometimes referred to as the “me generation.” They also value understanding why or how things work the way they do and are turned-off with the “do it this way because I told you to” attitude.

Area two, filling upper-level positions from within your company certainly takes time, but it also requires careful planning. Many of these individuals will also be in the Millennial bracket, therefore keep in mind what they value.

  • Communicate to your employees the value you have in education and learning (this is key, because if they don’t believe the company values education, they probably won’t either).
  • Offer an incentive program (tuition reimbursement, wage increase each year, etc.) to attend IEC’s Apprenticeship Program or other technical program.
  • If the worker has already completed an apprenticeship program, most chapters offer continuing education classes. If not available, suggest areas of training to the chapter or find other classes, including online learning, for your workers.
  • Make sure all employees know the promotional career ladder of your company and utilize it to promote them. Then make sure the other employees know about their achievements and promotions with announcements, newsletters, and company meetings.

Area three, filling upper-level positions from outside your company presents a different set of challenges, but it can be the fastest and quickest way to grow your workforce, especially when you land that new big job.

  • Utilize IEC’s loan/borrow (shared manpower) program.

  • Most IEC chapters also offer a resumé or employment referral services to their members.

  • Use a temporary agency not just for temporary workers but to screen for new workers.

  • Use a permanent employment agency. Steven Mitchell, Placement Specialist at Tech USA, says, “Many contractors don’t think of using a permanent staffing agency, but when a trusting relationship is established with your placement officer and the contractor, it becomes a very viable strategy to finding new skilled workers.”
  • Veterans are one of the biggest areas that contractors can use to expand their workforce. There are also tax breaks associated with hiring veterans. To find veterans go to

Although this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of ways to solve the workforce shortage, it is meant to provide you with a framework and plan whereby you can strategically begin to consistently have workers available just as you do material. Let’s hope that everyone is paying the same attention to the workforce side of the supply chain as they are to the product side. You certainly can’t meet the customer’s needs if both material and labor aren’t readily available.

Niel Dawson has been the Executive Director for both the Atlanta & Georgia Chapters IEC for 17 years. He began with IEC as their Training Director in 1996 with previous experience in work-based environments, including job placement and overall executive administration responsibilities of several multi-million dollar non-profit organizations. With an M.S. in Education and specialization in Human Services Development, Dawson has served on the IEC Foundation Board of Trustees and the Georgia Society of Association of Executives.