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February 19, 2014

Construction keynote looks at young guns in the workplace

Buildex Vancouver feature

The generational changing of the guard in the Western Canada construction industry is increasingly the subject of study and discussion.

For example, the construction keynote at Buildex Vancouver 2014 is The Young Guns: Gen Y and Their Role In The Future Of Construction.

“According to the Construction Sector Council’s labour market forecast for 2013-2021, labour force requirements in B.C. are estimated to increase by 22,500 by 2021,” said Fiona Famulak, president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) and moderator of the construction keynote panel.

“This will coincide with an increase in demand related to the expected retirement of 32,400 workers. But there are expected to be only 24,300 new entrants, leaving a shortfall of approximately 30,000. Part of the solution to this problem will be to attract Gen Y workers to the construction industry and set them up for success.”

Generation Y is defined as those born between 1982 and 1993.

Despite the industry’s need for more Gen Y workers, some employers have mixed feelings about that age.

Craig Shirra, a panelist for the construction keynote and the outgoing chairman of VRCA’s U40 Network for young construction professionals, said Gen Ys in the construction industry are enthusiastic and ambitious, but their aspirations are sometimes misinterpreted by older generations.

“We get stereotyped as being needy,” said the project co-ordinator with Bird Construction.

“We seek praise more frequently than Gen X and Baby Boomers, and we’ll change jobs if we’re not happy. As a result, Gen Ys can be seen as disloyal or even untrustworthy.”

Shirra said Gen Ys’ ambition and self-confidence is founded on aptitudes and abilities.

“I think our technical skills and education have enabled us to work faster and more efficiently than previous generations,” he said.

“Computers were just coming in when Gen X was in school. But, Gen Y has grown up with computers, software upgrades and constantly changing technology. So, we adapt much faster and easier than previous generations. But, at the same time, we lack the on-the-job experience of older generations.”

To attract Gen Y workers to construction and keep them, Shirra said employers need to challenge them and acknowledge their performance.

“Just by saying ‘great job’ when they’ve done something outside their normal duties will go a long way to improving a tense situation,” he said.

“Teach them softly that not every day will be a success and that it’s OK to fail, which is something most parents and teachers didn’t tell us when we were growing up.”

Shirra said employers should also talk to potential Gen Y employees about the benefits of a career in construction.

“Money is really important, but most Gen Ys also want to hear about such things as the opportunity to work from home, promotions to other branches and internal development programs and courses,” Shirra said.

“I want to work for a company that says ‘you’re great and here’s our plan for you.’ Give me targets to work toward, then hold my feet to the fire.

“If I stumble, help me get back on track and if I look bored, load me up with more challenges and responsibilities.”

Shaun Bromley, a project manager with Graham Construction & Engineering and in-coming chair of the U40 Network, said that in the construction industry, he hasn’t met any Gen Ys who fit the negative stereotype.

“The construction industry is no place to be a slacker,” he said

“If you’re really like that, you won’t last long in this business.”

Bromley said one of the reasons why Gen Y workers will leave one job for another, apparently without a second thought, is that there are more opportunities today than in the past.

“There’s a shortage of workers and there is more information available about job opportunities, thanks to the Internet and social media,” he said.

Bromley said Gen Y has already made a positive impact on construction because it is comfortable with teamwork.

“We’ll work together and not try to do everything by ourselves,” he said.

“It’s a lot faster and easier to use teamwork on a jobsite.”

The panelists, in addition to Shirra, are Jason Glue, district manager British Columbia for Graham Construction & Engineering Inc.; Jeff Musialek, vice-president with Smith Bros. & Wilson (BC) Ltd.; Heather James, the CEO of Active First Aid Inc.; and Kevin Zakus, the CEO of the BCCA Employee Benefit Trust.

The Young Guns: Gen Y and Their Role In The Future Of Construction takes place on, Feb. 19 starting at 2:30 p.m. at Buildex Vancouver 2014.

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