One of the biggest complaints I hear from executives in the construction industry is that they have trouble finding and keeping qualified employees. If they find someone who can pass a drug test, he or she is either not qualified or has a background that would make Al Capone blush. Good, experienced employees—not just bodies collecting a paycheck—are harder to find than Bears fans in Green Bay. 

One of the main reasons why this industry is struggling to find knowledgeable employees is that it doesn’t pay enough or provide competitive benefits. Yes, you heard an executive say out loud, “We don’t pay enough.” However, here is the big but: We can’t pay enough because the builders and consumers who buy our products and services don’t want to pay a fair price. In the construction industry, builders and homeowners alike will quote, bid, and cherry-pick every price. Because the industry is so fractured, there is always someone who is willing to underbid projects and products with no regard for the value of the work being done.

This continuous devaluation of the work equation in the construction industry has created a labor trap for the supply industry. Companies will hire under-skilled workers and spend time and money for training only to have those workers quit to go to other industries where margins and labor are more appreciated. I am confident there is not an executive reading this column that has not seen a great employee leave under this type of scenario.

So, how does this industry or your company get off of this employee cycle of doom? First, stop letting the fear of new government regulations dictate your employee benefits program. Many businesses have allowed fear and propaganda from political viewpoints to gut their programs. You should develop and maintain a benefits program that can do its job for you. Don’t forget the reason you have benefits is to attract, hire, and retain great employees.

Next, stop playing the low-margin game. Understand that you have to pay good people well and you can’t do that by giving away the farm. If great companies and subcontractors will make a commitment to their employees and start saying “no” to the low ballers and cherry-pickers of the world, then this industry will start building a good talent pool.

There are millions of potentially great employees looking for a wonderful place to work and the building supply industry is one of the best in America. It’s time this industry stops being the training grounds for other industries who are able to say “no” to stupid pricing.