By William Petrone, longtime owner of Petrone Construction
In the forty years I spent owning my own construction business, I’ve hired a lot of workers. I mean, a lot of workers.
I’ve had great ones that have lasted years and we’ve become lifelong friends. I’ve had terrible ones that quit within a day. I’ve really good guys who worked for months and then just stopped showing up one day, with no real explanation; and others who thought the start time was more of a guideline, instead of a requirement.
Truth be told, construction is tough work that attracts a lot of people who probably would have a tough time getting a job elsewhere. Drug and alcohol use is prevalent, some have criminal records and others are just downright dangerous to work with.
And yet, getting a great crew is a huge advantage. Having good workers who you can rely on to work hard every day not only leads to more profit, it also leads to less headaches, more fun and – most importantly of all – a safe work environment.
So what do I look for before hiring? Sure, skills and experience are nice, but they aren’t necessary. It is far better to get a reliable person who wants to work, as I knew I could easily teach them what they needed to know, as opposed to someone who has some skills but doesn’t really want to be there.
As the old axiom goes: hire for attitude, train for skill.
What’s The Attitude Your Looking For?
So what do I want in an employee? There are five crucial traits:
- Someone who is safe. The most important thing I want every day is for no one to get hurt on the job site. If I see someone who has a tendency for “dramatic” action or takes stupid chances, I get rid of them, really fast.
- I want someone who is reliable. The best way to gauge this is to call their references before hiring them. Fact is, many construction workers aren’t very reliable, so getting someone who is going to show up every day makes a huge difference.
- Construction is a physical job, so if the person is in good physical condition, that always helps. People who aren’t in shape are generally going to have a tough time on the job and hiring them can lead to worker compensation claims.
- I want someone who is willing to work hard throughout the day. Again, skills aren’t nearly as important as effort, as skill can be taught but effort is generally more innate. If I have an employee who is energetic and works throughout the day, that’s a huge plus.
- I want someone who has integrity, best determined by running a background check on them before hiring. If I’m being fully transparent, I’ve hired guys before who’ve had convictions, particularly for drugs or something that happened years before. But if I see someone who has a history of violence or theft, I don’t recommend hiring that person.
Those might seem like basic requirements, but the truth is, they are hard to find in construction (as anyone who has worked in the field knows). If you get someone with all five qualities, you need to do whatever you can – including paying them more, within reason – to keep them, because they don’t come around very often.
Bottom line is this: there is going to be a lot of misses in construction, as a lot of people just don’t want to do the work. The key is holding onto the ones who are great, because a few more dollars an hour is more-than-worth the benefits of having a safe, reliable, trustworthy worker.
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