One of the biggest challenges facing many building trade industries is the shortage of skilled workers. No longer are careers in the trades considered desirable, as every student is encouraged to pursue a university degree after graduating high school. Thus, fewer individuals are entering the profession at the same time as many experienced workers are reaching retirement age. Construction contractors even find it difficult to fill back-office positions like accountants, book keepers, and human resource and marketing professionals. However, if there are no jobs for union labor and their signatory partners, this shortage of skilled workers isn’t meaningful. Thus, any campaign to increase recruiting must go hand-in-hand with a marketing program that educates potential customers about the advantages of using the SMART-SMACNA team. The following steps identify best practices that New Mexico used to establish their construction trades recruiting/marketing program, which has won 12 awards:
- Establish an active labor-management cooperation committee/trust. Members must be committed to developing trust and communication. Labor and management won’t always agree on every issue, but they should be willing to work together for the good of the industry to ensure that SMACNA and SMART are competing on an even playing field with their non-signatory competition.
- Establish an alliance with signatory construction associations and their respective labor unions. Success requires not only positive labor-management cooperation within an industry but also between the trades. Parties in the alliance should be working together for the good of the union construction industry and should be willing to commit time and funding to that end. In New Mexico, the parties in the Mechanical Electrical Sheet Metal Alliance (MESA) include:
• New Mexico Sheet Metal Contractors Association,
• Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 49,
• Mechanical Contractors Association of New Mexico,
• Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 412,
• National Electrical Contractors Association of New Mexico, and
• International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 611.
- Work together as an alliance. Meet frequently and regularly to dis>cuss goals, determine the concrete actions to accomplish those goals, assign tasks, and measure progress. To ensure that recruiting and marketing work can proceed efficiently, participating organizations should provide to each other biographies on key employees, and identify the best contact(s) for information about members, projects, customers, and business and legislative relationships. Create a budget sufficient to accomplish goals. If necessary, establish a fund into which each party contributes. The New Mexico alliance budgeted $50,000 per partner per year.
- Develop a comprehensive communication and public relations strategy. This can be an internal process—if the alliance has knowledgeable staff to dedicate to the effort—or it can involve hiring a public relations firm, such as the Garrity Group that worked on the New Mexico strategy. Don’t rush ahead without a plan. In New Mexico, developing the strategy took more than one year and implementation involved multiple phases. New Mexico’s program used focus groups and one-on-one interviews to ensure that the final program responded to general contractors, union members, purchasing officers, new business development managers, key opinion leaders, and elected officials. Research also included queries of construction trade media and select publications, using topics related to value, commercial construction trends, RFP requirements and labor/management initiatives to emphasize quality work on the jobsite.
- Implement the strategy. Select a theme for the campaign(s). For example, the New Mexico alliance used “Trade-Up New Mexico” for recruiting and “Projects That Matter” for marketing. The recruiting program was designed to promote the construction industry, generate more interest in apprenticeship programs, and increase membership in the respective unions. The marketing program features the quality work performed by contractors who hire Union labor. It ties into the recruiting program by highlighting the importance of union apprenticeships, certifications, standards, and experience.
Acquire related Internet domain names and trademarks. Develop materials and schedule appropriate photo shoots to ensure that all final materials have a related look and feel. The New Mexico program created two interactive websites—TradeUpNM.com and ProjectsThatMatter.com that include video podcasts—and electronic and printed materials customized for each of the applicable audiences. They reached out to the community through distributing news releases, media alerts and op-ed pieces, and letters to elected leaders, school counselors and career advisors; participating in trade shows and career fairs; posting podcasts and blogs; holding discussions with public schools and higher education departments; preparing career kits for use by school counselors; and placing targeted advertising, including $150,000 of public service commercials. The MESA team used their Public Relations firm to respond to phone, email, and other queries.
The strategy in New Mexico tied the recruiting and marketing programs together by highlighting the importance of union apprenticeships, certifications, standards, and experience to achieving quality work and reinforced why it is important to get value and how to gauge value (work that complies with codes and standards and is finished on-time and within budget).
Within the first year of implementing the program in New Mexico, the MESA partnership benefitted from the following results:
• 10 percent increase of inquiries and applications for the apprenticeship program,
• Establishment of a career pathways program with matriculation from K-12 to community colleges,
• 740 applications for specific trades, and
• Increased state-wide awareness among elected leaders, school counselors and affinity groups (via over 30 presentations coordinated by The Garrity Group).
- Maintain the programs. Once recruiting and marketing strategies are live, the partners may not be required to meet as often, but ensure that there is adequate support for responding to queries and continually evaluating progress and adjusting campaigns. Recruiting and marketing programs are always more effective over time. The partners in New Mexico continued to use The Garrity Group for the maintenance phase of the recruiting and marketing program.
- Dave McCoy, executive director, New Mexico SMACNA: “We were tickled with the response of the educational establishment to the TradeUp New Mexico program. The counselors grabbed into it quickly and are requesting our materials—brochures for parents, counselors, and prospective students.”
- Ray Diaz, SMART local 49 organizer: “Whereas school counselors often feel obligated to push students into the college track, the TradeUp New Mexico program points out that ‘every student is designed to succeed in different ways.’ The campaign argues against tired notions of construction careers and labor unions, winning the hearts and minds of the public, and ultimately building owners.”
- Therese Carroll, a principal in Albuquerque Public Schools: “Today, high school students face a myriad of choices regarding future education and careers…Before the Trade Up program, the union trades lacked polished brochures and related Web sites to grab student interest…The program fits into our mandate for high school curriculums to prepare graduates better for college or trade school.”
- TradeUp New Mexico Web Site, http://tradeupnewmexico.com/
- Projects That Matter Web Site, http://www.projectsthatmatter.com
- TradeUp Program Wins Awards, http://www.smacnanm.org/tradeupnm.html
- Remove Barriers—TradeUp, Partners in Progress, Vol. 6, No.4, pg. 6, https://www.pinp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/vol06no4.pdf
- TradeUp New Mexico Podcasts: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/tradeup-new-mexico-podcasts/id276066090 and http://www.podcast.tv/video-podcast-archive/tradeup-new-mexico-podcasts-174339.html
- TradeUp teaching apprentices tricks, ABQ Journal, July 6, 2008, http://www.abqjournal.com/biz/0691156biz07-06-08.htm
- TradeUp Career Counseling Packet: http://www.tradeupnewmexico.com/images/uploads/TradeUp_Counselor_Packet_Jan_08.pdf
- TradeUp Student Brochure: http://www.tradeupnewmexico.com/images/uploads/TradeUp_Student_Packet_Jan_08.pdf
- TradeUp Upgrade Poster: http://www.tradeupnewmexico.com/images/uploads/TradeUP_UpgradeYourFuture_Poster.pdf