millennials graphic

Wilhelm, Ben

Hazlett, Taylor

By Ben Wilhelm, President, Carolinas Region.

Millennials are now the largest population group in the US, according to Goldman Sachs.  Born roughly between 1980 and 2000, millennials will dominate the workforce for many years to come.

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, millennials are digital natives, ethnically diverse, highly educated, and politically and religiously independent.  They marry less, trust society less, have a mountain of student debt, and are not counting on the safety net of Social Security for retirement.  It is not fair to label a population in broad strokes, but it does prompt us to consider how we engage this generation in a meaningful way.

Like many of our competitors, we have emerged from the Great Recession with significant growth in sales.  This is a welcome relief from the abyss of the last eight years, but it highlights a glaring weakness in the construction industry – a significant labor shortage.  Millennials are the answer.

Shiel Sexton has been on a hiring binge recently, but we were not sealing the deal with many millennials that we attempted to recruit.  It occurred to me that our environment did not resonate with our top candidates.

Previously located in an older vintage office park, our interior space was a labyrinth of hallways and our energy probably resembled the same; we looked dated and probably didn’t match the enthusiasm of the millennial mindset.

We relocated offices to the Southpark area, engaged an edgy interior design firm, invested in a PR campaign, and took a chance.  We upfitted our space to look like anything other than a 50 year old construction company.  Our new space screams collaboration, technology, and is infused with artsy and vibrant finishes that communicate our funky personality.

The results have been extraordinary.  We have enjoyed a lot of success recruiting, but the story goes deeper than paint and carpet.  Construction is nearly as old as farming and we are typically last to adopt new ideas.  Millennials grew up with Mark Zuckerberg and the Kardashians.  The world is obtainable to the millennial generation, so we stopped talking about job descriptions and started talking about a dynamic experience.

I used to talk about a linear, slow career path and watch eyes glaze over in the 25 year old engineering grad.  They wanted to talk opportunity, work-fun balance, connectedness to their work (both in the field and the office), personal development and building a social network.

Taylor Hazlett is a civil engineering grad from Clemson who recently joined our team.  He reflected on what it means to be a millennial in the workforce by noting, “People in my generation want to be more well-rounded, and cross-trained in more than one area of their profession.  I’d say in my first 3 months with Shiel Sexton those goals have absolutely been substantiated.”

The millennial generation requires a different way of thinking about human capital.  The old rules of “time-in-the-seat” and “be patient” are passé.  The new workforce demands career agility, high octane social networking, and responsive feedback to retain and develop a leader.  It also requires a lot of trust because the recession taught us that trust is a two-way street.

What can we do to engage and attract millennial prospects to the industry?  We can start by changing our attitudes and demonstrate receptiveness to a new way of thinking.  So, if you were born between 1980 and 2000 and feel like your employer is stuck in the 1950’s… give me a call.