Leave No Stone Unturned

Above all, say remodelers Craig Plekkenpol and Paul Bauscher, go about hiring the way you go about getting new business — seek referrals constantly and keep the pipeline full.

October 31, 2005

 

 

Jud Motsenbocker

Contributing Editor

Putting a help-wanted ad in the newspaper is one of the first ideas to come to mind when you need to fill an open position. So is asking employees, colleagues, subcontractors, suppliers and educators if they know any good prospects. Placing online ads at association and government Web sites has begun to pan out more often, too. Above all, say Craig Plekkenpol and Paul Bauscher, go about hiring the way you go about getting new business — seek referrals constantly and keep the pipeline full.

Jud: Craig, you got an opening out in the field — where are you going to go?

 

Craig Pekkenpol, President

Pekkenpol Builders Inc.

Craig: Thirty years ago I could put an ad in the paper about a line long and I'd have 100 people at my door the next morning. That was a whole lot easier. Today we need to get deeply involved and be able to handpick people coming out of the trade schools in the spring and put them into a training program. It's an annual process for us for the most part.

We try to put in a new crop of apprentices in the spring. The trade school has a program where they start working Fridays in about February. So we get to try to test-drive them a couple of months before we put them on board. We have to plan for what our growth is going to be, what attrition's going to be, who might get promoted. You have to juggle all of those numbers early in the year so we know what kind of a crop of apprentices to put on.

Jud: Paul, where are you going to go?

Paul: The first place I go is to my existing guys because they tend to know a lot of people in the trades that might be worthwhile. Assuming that your existing employees are decent individuals, they probably associate with decent individuals. We've not had a lot of success with our local trade school.

 

Paul Bauscher, President

Bauscher Construction &

Remodeling Inc.

As far as field employees go, we are always looking. That doesn't mean we always need someone. But I will look at and talk to almost every person who calls, every person who stops in, every person who fills out an application, because you just don't know where you're going to find that next great employee. Part of it depends on what the need is. Am I trying to hire a lead carpenter? A journeyman? A laborer? Each approach is a little different.

We try not to hire a lead carpenter from outside our organization. We like to get guys at a helper level or maybe a journeyman level, where we can then indoctrinate them into our systems and how we like things done.

We've actually had good success with our local newspaper advertising. It's accepted in our area as the place to go to find a job. We've also gotten to the point where we don't want every person in the city to call us.

You have to be artful about the ad writing. Understanding what you need up front helps with that. We used to get 100 phone calls from ads. One day I just said, "Well, there's no way I can answer 100 phone calls." So we ran the same ad the following week and at the end we put, "Drug testing and background check required." We received something in the neighborhood of 27 calls.

Jud: Reduced it real quick, didn't you?

Paul: Yeah, it narrowed it down to the people we felt were serious about working for a company that was serious.

Craig: You said you didn't have much luck with trade schools. We participate in a number of programs. Some are high-school level programs where they bring kids along that might want to go into the construction trades as opposed to college. We spent many fruitless years approaching those avenues until we got our "in." It's not a simple task. We've had employees on advisory boards to all of the trade schools . We've been on committees through the Builders Association. We participate in planning sessions with the instructors at the school. We finally got to the point where it is now, where we look at it like it's the draft. We make first-round picks.

Jud: Craig, do you do anything with universities or colleges?

Craig: We do, but that doesn't really provide us with a whole lot of field people. Once in a while it will.

Jud: There's a place called Vincennes University in Indiana. They're turning out some very good students, and a lot of times those kids are willing to move. They go real quick, that's for sure.

Paul: We have tried colleges, but that has had more limited success than the high schools. There's a program here that focuses on the last two years of high school. They take kids who have determined that they are probably not going to college. They can get their English and other credits and spend the rest of their time learning their trade in their last two years of high school.

Craig is probably correct in that it's a matter of being persistent. I've actually had the program director tell me, "You don't want my kids because all of the good ones are already taken and the rest of them are only here because they don't want to go to college."

Jud: Have you had any luck with finding the one-man operation that's just tired of fighting and wants to give it up?

Paul: One of our best sources for good hires has been people who are on their own: the one-man guy, or the two-man show working out of their truck. Those guys are good craftsman, have a little management skill and understand what it means to run a business, but they've decided that they are tired of working and bidding all night. We will send letters out to them that say, "Are you tired of working too much?" We have gotten calls back from those and actually hired people from that.

My two top lead carpenters both were in business for themselves. They've worked out wonderfully for us. It's amazing how some of these young guys go out and work their tail off. All of a sudden they get married and have a baby and they realize the value of benefits. Suddenly they become very ripe pickings for good employees.

Craig: We have a few employees that have come down that road. Those people have been through the trenches and yes, there are benefits that come with that. But you have to be very careful not to take it for granted that because this guy has a lot of experience we don't have to put any investment into training. Our company has its own standards and processes. You have to plan for and implement that training.

Paul: We have an unwritten rule that a person has to work for us for a year before we trust them to take on any project where they are in charge to give us an opportunity to feel out their standards. We have to be sure that employee is somebody we trust with our client.

Jud: Do you have job descriptions for these jobs out there in the field?

Paul: We do, yes. We give that to people who apply so they are clear on what they are applying for. Another thing we do is use a behavioral survey, the McQuaig Word Survey. (To see Bauscher Construction's application and survey, click here.) It tells us how people like to behave. It also lets us develop what kind of behavior traits a particular job is going to require. We use that in all positions whether administrative or sales or estimating or field. We've seen a huge drop in our turnover since we started using that to place the right people in the right place.

Jud: Craig, you ever do any testing like that?

Craig: I could pretty much say ditto. We've got ourselves structured in a different way. We have close to 20 different positions in the field, with different job descriptions every step of the way. Defining those provides you with a road map to not only put the right people in the right job but then to mentor and train and counsel them.

Jud: Have you seen subcontractors that you have brought into the employee ranks?

Craig: Yeah, we have. For 30-something years we've been in the carpentry trade, but a few years back we started branching out into other trades. We took a couple of small subcontractors and put them in as employees.

Paul: You still have to do all of the checking that you do on everyone else, but I think hiring subcontractors is probably a very good place to find good people.

Jud: Did you find hiring subcontractors as employees to be successful?

Paul: It works great for certain levels, if you're looking for someone who's more experienced and more adept at handling themselves independently.

The thing you have to be cautious with is that sometimes you get guys who have been busy, and all of a sudden they are not busy. We saw this after 9–11. There have been people who I've had in my office talking, and I can tell that they are just looking for a place to stay for a month or two until that next job comes down the pike.

Jud: Have either one of you had success going to a supplier?

Paul: No. Not from the standpoint of a field operator. We are currently looking for someone to be a selections coordinator for us, and I can say that we are looking pretty hard at some of our plumbing suppliers and our lighting suppliers. They have inside salespeople who are very adept and know the products well.

Craig: We have never ever put a field person on that came through a supplier. We've tried that avenue but I never got anywhere with it.

I want to make a distinction in regards to hiring from the subcontractor ranks. It's always been a subcontractor who had done a lot of work for us in the past. We became their biggest account and had a good working relationship for a period of time and came to the conclusion, "Why are you beating yourself over the head trying to take care of insurance and this and that and the other thing on your evenings and weekends? Why don't you come over here and enjoy good wages and benefits and leave some of the headaches to somebody else?"

Jud: What about a bonus program if an employee brings you somebody?

Craig: We've got a recruiting bonus program here that probably is the most prevalent way of finding somebody at midyear. We started that back in the '90s when labor got really tight. Commercial was strong, new housing was going great guns, they had a couple of big storms go through the area, and remodeling has gone full bore. If an employee brings in a candidate that's a successful hire, they get a cash bonus when that person's hired. And they get additional cash bonuses if they remain with the company for a period of time.

Paul: We started doing the same thing. That goes back to the first place we go is to our employees when we are looking for new help. We have a cash bonus based on someone actually getting hired, and then after a six-month time period in the company, that person gets another cash bonus.

Jud: Cool. That's an interesting concept.

Paul: During the first 90 days, we analyze if this new hire is going to stay or go, and of course the new hire is analyzing your company. It's not the old days where everybody was begging the corporate monsters to give them a job. Now it has to be a successful marriage. After six months we are pretty darn sure that person is fitting into the team.

Jud: Have either one of you hired from the Job Corps? That's another group of people that we've found to be very successful. Have either one of you used headhunters?

Craig: We have from time to time, not so much for the field people. In real estate they say "location, location, location." In hiring, I would say "network, network, network." I guess headhunters are just another part of the network but we're not very high on them.

Paul: We have not used them, and I think I would ditto Craig's comment that we're just not very high on that.

Jud: What's the position that's most difficult to fill?

Paul: I'd have to say sales. When you are hiring people you are trying to duplicate your own values, morally and from a quality standpoint, a customer service standpoint and professionalism. A salesperson is that first representative of your company. It goes back to pride in your business. It's difficult to find people with the spit and polish for sales that also have the knowledge of construction and problem-solving abilities to be able to sell complicated projects.

Cincinnati is a conservative town and if you're a "salesperson," people don't like it. It's difficult to get someone who can sell without selling, if you will.

Jud: Craig, where are you going to look for a salesman?

Craig: First off, a traditional ad and online posting. We normally get a reasonable response rate out of that kind of thing. We're actively involved in every association you can think of where we network and get to know people. Just as importantly, they know us, so when there's an opening in our company, we've already made an impression and they'll come and apply.

Jud: Paul, where are you going to go?

Paul: First, internally. In the past few years we've hired people in administration or the field with the intent of making them salespeople. What they are doing right now is getting the technical education they need to be able to sell the projects. They're people we feel have the education, professionalism, and the ability to manage relationships.

Second, we've done a little bit of advertising in our Homebuilders Association newsletter. That seems to be a decent place to find office staff quality people. And then you do the normal newspaper and online postings.

The happier your current employees are, the easier it is to find new ones because word travels. You get that guy that's working somewhere else but going, "Hey, guys, let me know when your company's hiring because I want to come to work there." We've had that happen. People should keep that in mind as they're contemplating ways to keep their employees happy. That's another benefit to it.

Jud: How successful has online advertising been for you?

Craig: A few years back it wasn't such a hot deal, but as each year ticks by it produces more and more results. You've got your local and state and national trade associations, and there's your own Web site. There's just oodles of places that you can go beyond just strictly employment Web sites.

Paul: I had more success advertising online as opposed to going through sites looking for people. For instance, I hired an estimator a few months back. He was moving here from Florida. He saw our online posting, flew up and interviewed, and turned out to be a good person for the position. A lot of people might think, "If you don't see it in the newspaper, you're not going to see it online," but online you might catch that guy who's coming from another state or another community who's looking for a job in your area.

Jud: I had that experience. I advertised in the newspaper. The state called me and asked if they could put my ad on their Web site. The production manager that I hired saw it on the state Web site, not in our local newspaper.

Paul: People can go to our Web site and download the application and survey off our Web site in order to apply for a job. We don't put job postings on our site because we figure the people on our Web site aren't looking for jobs.

Jud: Do you look somewhere different for administration people or somebody in the front office?

Craig: Not really. We use pretty much the same approach, same avenues. We have a smaller number of people there and the hires aren't as many or as often, but we've got people that have come via business colleges. I've got people who've come via networking and some via traditional sources.

Paul: We might look at people who are working for our suppliers who already possess some knowledge of the building industry. Having general knowledge of what goes on in the remodeling and building industry seems to help administrative people a bit.

Jud: Whether you're looking for someone in the field, sales or office, you are looking for somebody who has some knowledge, but will train them yourself.

Paul: For most of our positions, we don't want someone who is really green right at the get-go. Entry-level field people pick it up as they work. Anytime you get above that, we'd like them to show up with some knowledge. I would say it would be about 70 percent when I hire them. It's very time consuming to bring somebody from nothing to something. That's not to say we wouldn't do it for the right person. We are much better off hiring the right person and teaching them than we are hiring someone who is technically skilled but just is not the right person.

Craig: There is a significant difference between the field people and everybody else. In the field, we have pretty strongly committed to this program where we build them from the ground up, and that's a five-year process. It means that come next February I've got to pick out this group that in 2010 are going to be my star performers.

Jud: Do you have any final comments as to where you're going to find this best hire?

Craig: Just one final thought on the job description and testing: along with that is training. You ought to have a training manual in place for any position before you even start looking for somebody.

Paul: I would stress knowing what you are looking for before you start running an ad. I really believe that there are a lot of decent people out there getting hired into the wrong jobs. Be aware if you have other positions to hire for at the time you are interviewing. I hired a project manager once when I was looking for a carpenter because the guy was just the right guy. Always have your eyes open.

 

Craig Plekkenpol, President, Plekkenpol Builders Inc.

Founded in the early 1970s, Plekkenpol Builders is a design/build residential and commercial remodeling firm in Bloomington, Minn., near the Twin Cities. Employees include carpenters at multiple skill levels, designers and draftspeople, estimators, salespeople, project supervisors, and multiple office staff members.

Paul Bauscher, President, Bauscher Construction & Remodeling Inc.

Located in Loveland, Ohio, in the Cincinnati metro area, this 33-year-old firm does residential remodeling and some custom building. Bauscher employs in-house carpenters and a project manager as well as salespeople, but works with outside designers and architects.

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