Workforce Crisis: Weighing Effectiveness, Options For Recruiting Labor

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | September 2008 Vol. 63 No. 9

There is no question that a shortage of labor is affecting underground construction projects.

This is the third report in a continuing series about how labor shortages are affecting the industry. The first report in our Workforce Series provided an overview of the problem which is impacting some markets more than others (such as currently, contractors who do gas transmission lines appear to be more affected than others). That article reported that the problem varies by geographic location, and that it is likely the labor shortage is not going to improve in the immediate future.

The second article reported about how one contractor is changing the way projects are scheduled in order not to lose workers during downtime between major projects.

This report looks at the varied methods companies are using to locate and attract new employees. Some say the slumping housing market and layoffs of factory workers in several areas is actually increasing the available labor pool, but that these new workers usually must be trained once they are hired.

Underground construction contractors are going beyond placing help wanted ads and other conventional methods of searching for new employees.

No limits

"We use every way we can think of," says Ric Pringle, employee relations, NPL counsel, NPL Construction Co., Phoenix, AZ (natural gas distribution, telecommunications, electric power). "We use the internet, job fairs, state employment agencies. There is no silver bullet to solve the problem, no secret solution. We do a pretty good job by word of mouth referrals – our employees bring people to us; that's probably our number one source (see sidebar).

Ken Trawick, president of telecommunications and cable operations for Quanta Services Inc., Houston, said that Quanta (telecommunications, electrical power, natural gas pipelines) uses classified ads in print and on line, participates in job fairs and uses employee referrals to maintain a pipeline of qualified employees.

Miller Pipeline Corp., Indianapolis, IN (natural gas, water, waste water, and telecommunications) utilizes many recruiting methodologies including web based applications, ads in local papers, job fairs and even advertising jobs with local radio stations, says Doug Banning, chief executive officer.

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