Employee Retention for Trades and Construction Companies: Hire Right, Manage Well, Reward & Look Forward


The costs to a company of high turnover in skilled employees can be significant, affecting both gross revenues and expenses. Recently, one of our advisors from the Kansas SBDC sent out a request to the rest of us for suggestions that he might pass along on how to improve employee retention for trades and construction companies. Amongst us, we generated a number of tips that can be grouped into four general categories: hire right, manage well, reward, and look forward.  While this article was written with construction and trades in mind, many of the recommendations for employee retention are broadly applicable. Kansas SBDC advisors throughout the state can work with small business owners on bullet items listed under these headings and/or help identify further resources for assistance on matters that impact employee retention. (This is just an example of the types of services that we offer to help Kansas small businesses thrive.)

Hire Right

  • Avoid poor hires. Understand the desired skills, qualifications, and characteristics that you are looking for in a future employee before you advertise, interview, and hire for a particular position.  Try not to hire out of desperation. In addition to creating problems, an employee who does not perform well can cause good workers to leave your company.
  • Use existing employees as a source of referrals. Someone who is a good performer and quality team member is likely to understand what it takes to be an appropriate fit for the company and will value the opportunity to contribute to hiring efforts.
  • Set appropriate barriers for entry. Setting barriers too high will make it difficult to hire, but setting them too low might make existing employees feel undervalued – or worse, worried for their safety. Pre-employment (and on-going) drug screening, e.g.,  may be important for your company.
  • Utilize available resources. For example, KansasWorks can assist with functions such as employee recruitment, assessment and screening.

Manage Well

  • Practice good employee onboarding. Educate new employees about potential hazards and safety precautions. Explain your company values and work culture. Explain to new employees how they fit into the company and why their work is important. Encourage communication.
  • Communicate expectations. Convey clear, detailed, accurate information about what is expected with respect to what is supposed to be done, to what quality level, and by when. It is frustrating for employees to be corrected or have their work re-done by employers when the performance expectations were not clearly set.
  • Allow managers to manage. If you have chosen good managers, then support their decisions and don’t intervene unnecessarily. Interference causes confusion and frustration.
  • Have clear processes. For example, having a clear process on how to make changes (to make a customer happy) after a job has been bid helps employees on a job site know what to do so that they feel more effective.
  • Pay attention to company culture. Practice leadership skills that create a positive culture.
  • Get rid of bad employees. Poor attitude, inconsistent job performance, lack of attention to details and instructions, or general unreliability in one employee can decrease productivity and undermine morale causing other employees to quit – or even worse, create hazardous work conditions or unsafe products.
  • Care about safety. There are many reasons for caring about employee safety, just one of which is that employees have no reason to feel loyal to a company that does not make this a priority.


  • Offer competitive wages. Information about wages for specific occupations in locations throughout Kansas is available from the Kansas Department of Labor. To illustrate, according to KDOL, in 2017, there were 1,460 construction trades jobs in the Manhattan area. Compensation was $28,559 annual salary ($13.43/hr.) for entry level positions. The mean annual salary was $40,921 ($19.67/hr.). The median salary was $37,636 ($18.09/hr.). For experienced workers, annual salary was $47,103 ($22.65/hr).  More fine-grained information is also available, e.g., for dry-wall installers, electricians, plumbers, roofers, cement masons and concrete finishers, and so forth. It is wise to know what is reasonable and competitive compensation and there are resources available for acquiring this information.
  • Offer benefits. Even if your company is too small to be required to offer benefits, this is something worth considering. Health insurance and retirement plans are highly desirable. Flex time and paid vacation days also appeal to many workers. Try to figure out what benefits you can offer that your employees would most appreciate.
  • Acknowledge contributions and work well-done. Buy lunch now and then or a pizza after work. Give a gift-card or a bonus for hitting certain benchmarks or for potential job candidate referrals.

Look Forward

  • Be a good coach. For example, help an employee see how staying with his/her employment might play a major role in achieving his/her dream of homeownership.
  • Show how a particular job might fit into a path of career advancement and taking on leadership roles.
  • Support opportunities for your employees to upgrade their skills.
  • Don’t get stuck in time. Stay abreast of workforce trends, new technologies, and improved processes so that employees take pride in the company and are not frustrated by competitors moving ahead.
  • Manage your finances responsibly. A company that is poorly run financially can give employees cause for concern and reason to look for work elsewhere out of worry for their future.
  • Have a succession plan. Employees might worry about what would happen to the company if the business owner or key manager were to leave the company (e.g., to retire or pass away). Having a plan for how the company will continue and move forward can reassure employees that the business has a future.
  • Consider an Employee Stock Option Plan. Due to the cost, this is not an option for every business, but in the right circumstances, it can enable a small business to retain employees, include them in important decisions, and grow the company. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, “ESOPs are most commonly used to provide a market for the shares of departing owners of successful closely held companies, to motivate and reward employees, or to take advantage of incentives to borrow money for acquiring new assets in pretax dollars.”

It is important for small businesses to be proactive about retaining valuable employees. In addition to the expense of hiring and training, turnover costs in terms of loss of knowledge, productivity, time, energy, and morale can be detrimental  to a company.  By appreciating potential effects of turnover and – pardon, the pun – effectively employing practices to support employee retention, small businesses should be better positioned to hold on to their valuable skilled workers and to be better for it in the long run.

Related Posts & Links to Further Information

Kansas Department of Labor 2017 Wage Report Search Tool

Wages for Construction & Extraction Jobs by County in Kansas

3 Tips for Employee Retention in the Construction Industry

Lower Your Construction and Skilled Employee Turnover

How to Retain Top Employees in the Construction Industry

18 Ways Contractors Can Improve How They Hire and Fire Workers

Improving Hiring and Retention with Employee Communication

Incumbent Worker Training

Registered Apprenticeships


The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly

Social Media & Employer Brand

Know and Manage Your Employer Brand

How Small is Too Small for an ESOP

How an Employee Stock Ownership Plan Works

Cultivating Employee Engagement for Remote Employees

Note: thank you to the Kansas SBDC Advisors who contribution suggestions and participated in the conversation that led to this post.

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor


America’s SBDC Kansas


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Cutting Through The Noise

Modern marketing is interesting. While many people will argue that it’s evolving and becoming technologically advanced, it still usually rests on the tenants of impressions and exposure at its roots. 4,000 ads a day, that’s what most sources will say the average American is exposed to. Our brains bombarded via airwaves, billboards, display ads and the like. So, what are we to do?

If you think about it personally, how many advertisements do you pay attention to or actually care about? How many mailers do you receive and throw directly in the trash? How many times to you sigh heavily and roll your eyes when the ad interrupts your “lit” Pandora run of songs?

What can we do to cut through the noise? What can your brand do to be different? In my professional opinion, we need to be more relational and less transactional. Let me explain.

We are more connected than we have ever been, but studies show (especially in teenagers) that we are lonelier than we’ve ever been. This is because, from a biological perspective, the digital connection is not the same as a face-to-face connection. Different bonds are made, different emotions are understood, and we lose a lot in the digital world. Because of this, people, your customers, are craving relationships.

So, our marketing needs to reach out to our customers in a way that connects to them personally and emotionally, not just in a way that is striving for their wallet. We need to show them that our organizations value them, that we want to improve their lives, that they are truly important to us. Without your customer, you don’t exist.

The problem with this approach is that there isn’t a silver bullet or a right answer. I don’t have a five-step process for you to follow or a strategy for you to implement. I would, however, ask you to just try to think about it. Change your perspective and start thinking about your customers differently.


Collin Billau
Marketing Consultant
Google Adwords and Analytics Certified

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The Dreaded Marketing Resolution

New Year’s Day has come and gone and so has the dreaded resolution that accompanies it.  According to a study by the University of Scranton, about 8% of people actually accomplish their goals by the end of the new year. Some people love the “resolution,” but for most people, it is a source of dread.

While I won’t take the time to challenge you to make your staff happier, make 300% more profit, or grow a product line (all good goals by the way), I would like to set something before you. This “something” might even be regarded as much worse, especially in the marketing world. I’m talking about, of course, the dreaded rebrand…dun,dun,duuuuuun.

Every once and a while, it’s healthy to ask yourself this question if and only if you can be completely honest with its answer – “Is my brand stale?” The reaction to that question can change, or not change, the trajectory of your business. Think of it from the perspective of something as simple as a chip. If chips are stale, we typically throw them out. We want something that is new, fresh, and applicable to our current desires. A squishy Dorito typically doesn’t fit that bill.

So, if you’ve answered yes to the question, you have a resolution to make for your business. You need a rebrand. Something new, fresh, and applicable to the current desires of not just your current customers, but more importantly, your potential customers.

And what does as rebrand look like?

A strategic change that has greater the ability to take advantage of future marketing opportunities.

It is strategic in the way that it is executed. A rebrand must be carefully thought through, planned, and communicated. It has to have intention. As it’s put into place, a good rebrand is swift and comprehensive.

The opportunity lies as the rebrand is completed. At this stage, an organization can leverage its fresh image and direction to launch new products and make new partnerships that hit right at the heart of their target market.

Take this risk. Ask yourself the question. Be honest with the answer. We are here to help.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

Collin Billau
Marketing Consultant
Google Analytics and Adwords Certified
Washburn SBDC

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So It’s Icy And You Work Retail, Now What?

I don’t know where you are sitting currently, but right now, I’m in the comfort of my own chair as the lovely ice rain slush junk comes down outside. However, I worked retail in high school, and similar to the hero in your favorite war movie, we never backed down. Rain, snow, sleet, or hail, we were there on the off chance that a customer would come through our door.

Now, the truth of the matter is that sometimes they did, but sometimes they didn’t. However, as I look back on it now as a seasoned business person, there is so much that can be done (as long as everyone can get to the store safely, which I cannot stress enough) even if customer foot traffic is slow.


This one seems pretty obvious. Take some time to do the dreaded bathroom clean. Maybe mop the floors. Clean in places you don’t normally clean. It’s a great opportunity to really make your space sparkle.

Refine Your Space

How does your customer interact with your store as they walk in? Big box stores spend tons of time and money on product placement, colors, music, and processes. Think through the customer experience and make changes. See if there are any measurable differences in the next few months.

Brainstorm New Marketing

Use this space to have conversations with your employees about what they are seeing and hearing from your customers. Talk with them about potential ways to reach new customers and give them the ability and freedom to be creative. Sometimes an outside perspective is very helpful.

Help Your Neighbors

This one is often overlooked but goes a long way in forming relationships and bonds with fellow business owners. Take the time to at least ask your neighbors if they have anything they may need help with. Maybe send an employee or two over to help in some cleaning efforts. You never know what type of partnership or synergy this might form.

Encourage Employees

Take this time to intentionally encourage your employees. A sincere thank you means more than you know. Maybe even buy them some pizza for lunch, get to know them a little better. An employee that knows they are appreciated will work harder for your organization.

Collin Billau
Marketing Consultant
Google Adwords and Analytics Certified

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They’ve Got It All, Right?

I’m still full. I know that’s an odd way to open up a business blog, but stick with me here. During the Christmas season, our family travels to 37.6 destinations to eat, drink, be merry, and eat again. In the aftermath, I’m left to sit here and ponder if I’ll ever enjoy food again. I’m fulfilled, full, content. I don’t want anything to eat again…ever.

This leaves me thinking (oddly enough, I know), how do we market to a culture who is “full,” and when they aren’t “full,” have the ability to satiate their needs instantaneously?

1. To those who say, “I have everything I need, I don’t need your product or service!”

What are you really marketing?

People hear enough about products, companies, slogans, phrases, and guarantees. They need to know what these things are going to do for them and how these products/services are going to change their lives. Now, does your marketing message speak to your customer in that regard? Are you talking about them, or are you talking about you?

2. To those who say, “I need a product or service and I need it now!”

I can almost buy anything I want as I type this post. I can set up a ride out of town, get groceries delivered, schedule a plumber, rent a movie, and facetime a friend. If I really wanted, my life could be instantaneously delivered via this browser right now. How are you rising to meet this challenge as a business? What does your web presence look like? How do you differentiate yourself?

I’ll leave you with this. My grandma makes pecan pie from scratch and dominates anything you can purchase from the store. No matter how full I am, no matter how fulfilled I think I may be, I will make room for a slice of that pie if it becomes available. Make your business like that…channel your inner pecan pie.

Collin Billau
Marketing Consultant
Google Adwords Certified

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Cultivating Employee Engagement for Remote Workers


One reason why employers are sometimes reluctant to pursue the potential benefits of having remote workers is that they are worried about lack of employee engagement. To elaborate, a concern for employers is that remote employees won’t identify/connect with the company, its culture, its mission, other team members or with the company’s clients if employees are working from home or from some other out-of-the-office location.  Consequently, employers fear that remote employees’ work ethic, work performance, ability to collaborate, dedication to the company or dedication to the company’s clientele will be substandard. In other words, it is a fear that if the company office, employees and customers are out of sight, they will be out of mind.

However  there are many potential advantages to small businesses of having out-of-the-office workers, and so before ruling out remote employment, small businesses should consider strategies for maintaining important connections with employees who don’t come to the company’s physical location on a regular basis.

Strategies for Engaging Remote Employees

• Before hiring, identify which job functions are well-suited to remote work and what skills and characteristics an employee needs to possess in order to perform remotely. Hire the right employees for the right remote job functions.

• Understand what metrics are appropriate for evaluating job performance. Ask for, and utilize, employee input in setting goals and objectives. Don’t expect to be micromanaging.

• Hold in-person team meetings periodically. Allow unstructured time for team members to interact, get to know each other, and develop an interest in connecting professionally. While conference calls and video-conferencing can be used to stay in touch between meetings, when possible, they shouldn’t completely replace human interaction.

• Visit remote employees and take time to get to know them. Figure out what communication channels work best for various purposes ranging from quick questions, to emergency situations, to lengthy dialogue about an issue, to sharing a funny story about the day.

• Build trust in both directions and authorize team members to take leadership when appropriate or needed.

• Understand what obstacles they might face and make sure that they have the support and resources that they need, e.g, with respect to technology, access to information, access to professional connections, mentors, finances, and knowing that someone has their back.

• Make effective use of  internal social media. Make sure that it is easy to access, attractive, easy to navigate, and that it contains important content for performing job functions such as company policies and procedures. Allowing for interactions between team members based on professional interests can help remote employees develop connections.

• Remember that remote employees are out there working for your business. Make a point of seeing and acknowledging their contributions and achievements. Don’t treat remote employees like they are invisible – out of sight, of out mind can go both ways!

• Put in place professional development and advancement opportunities for remote employees. Feeling like there is no room for development or advancement can undermine motivation.

• Be aware of the potential for burn-out and find ways to mitigate the risk. One of the common characteristics of people who are suited to be remote employees is that they are highly self-motivated. The combination of being goal-driven and working days that don’t have a set ending time can result in a habit of working excessively.

• Remote work is not a viable option for every job function; but for small businesses, when it is a good fit, it can reduce costs, increase the pool of qualified and motivated job candidates, increase productivity, increase coverage area (e.g. time zones covered), reduce employee turn-over, facilitate business continuity, and actually improve employee engagement. So, if offering remote employment might be a good fit for your small business, it is worth considering strategies for cultivating employee engagement.


Related Posts:

Remote Work Potential for Small Businesses


Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University KSBDC

America’s SBDC Kansas



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9 Holiday Tips for Small Businesses


For many small businesses – notably, but not exclusively, those in retail and hospitality – the holiday season is an important time not only because of the impact that it has on short-term sales but also because how a business is managed during the holidays can have a lasting reflection in public perception throughout the year. So this is a time of year to shine not only in marketing but also in taking care of important relationships, e.g, by paying attention to employees, customers and community kinship.

Suggestions and Reminders for the Holiday Season

• Do use your website and social media to promote your holiday specials, but don’t make everything about selling. Use them to tell your story, foster connections, and show appreciation.

• Keep up excellent customer service by handling requests efficiently and with good cheer. Use this as an opportunity to make customers feel like they are being taken care of.

• Have sneak-peaks, special hours, secret sales or a customer appreciation open-house for loyal customers.

• Send personal notes in your holiday cards and thank you notes.

• Connect with your community by attending local events and giving to charities.

• Plan ahead for the possibility of bad weather, thinking about how it might affect staff, customers, vendors, or shippers and what you might do to handle potential difficulties.

• Prepare in advance for staffing issues, whether it is the need for extra help or for employees to have holiday time off.

• Find ways to show employees appreciation for their extra efforts.

• Enjoy time with family and friends and also allow yourself some quiet time.

Best wishes to you during the coming month of holiday activity!

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University KSBDC

America’s SBDC Kansas

Related Posts

Practicing Gratitude: A Good Practice for Small Business Owners

7 Holiday Tips for Small Business Owners

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