We all feel such a debt of gratitude for the healthcare workers right now. They are the frontline heroes working to keep everyone safe and for that we are all grateful. Never have the words "essential industry" had more impact. Undergirding the critical areas of our economy such as healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, data communications, and power plants is another essential industry… Construction. Particularly union construction.
If you need some good news, here's it is… A look beyond the headlines will reveal some potentially huge opportunities on the horizon. This may be the greatest time ever to recruit for the future. No, you can't canvass job sites, and face-to-face meetings are still at least 6-feet away, but if you know what to look for, you think 12-18 months out in terms of return on investment, and you have a solid digital recruiting strategy, you will never have a more captive and attentive audience than you do right now. As my friend and client Kenny Mullins from IBEW Local 613 in Atlanta says about this current crisis, "It may be 4 weeks, it may be 4 months, but we know it won't be FORever!"
There is a lot of introspection going on that no one is writing or talking about. For many business sectors, news in the short term is grim. Coronavirus cases are rising, restaurants and retail are shutting their doors, unemployment claims have skyrocketed. But look beyond the numbers at what's going on psychologically in the marketplace and you'll see a huge pool of talented, capable, hard working people who are open to a new possibility and may have never considered learning a skilled trade and joining a trade union. Hourly-wage workers in unaccredited vocations, particularly in retail and restaurants, are feeling especially vulnerable and may be considering a different, more secure path. Those without good insurance and benefits who relied on the influx of cash flow from their jobs are suddenly rethinking their positions for the future. Furthermore, young people contemplating college see their older peers with mountains of unforgivable student-loan debt with no meaningful job experience in areas deemed 'non-essential'.
Construction as an "Essential Employer"
During the current shelter-in-place statues that are being enforced across the country, businesses are falling into 2 categories: Those that are deemed "essential" and those that are not. Healthcare is obvious, but in markets across the US and Canada, many areas of construction are deemed essential, especially those areas where union labor is particularly well-suited to compete and win: Hospitals, Data Centers, Power Plants, Airports, Nuclear, Infrastructure, etc. We were built for this.
NABTU President Sean McGarvey said it best in a recent release:
"Government officials at all levels should treat the construction industry and the work it performs as vital and essential to the critical industries that must remain in operation. Construction workers provide an invaluable economic service, maintaining and improving the nation's infrastructure, including critically important energy and communication systems, roads and bridges, and social infrastructure, including police, fire and health care facilities."
Moreover, those working non-union jobs construction without benefits and insurance are surely rethinking their positions. In our social media recruiting programs, we are still seeing significant web traffic and activity as those locked down at home spend copious hours surfing the web.
Safety as paramount concern
While politicians and pundits have recently ratcheted up the focus on job safety and health concerns due to coronavirus, safety has always been common parlance and practice among the building trade unions. The health and safety of union members has always been a top priority. Business Managers and their administrations are working with signatory contractors as we speak to make sure there are proper measures in place to keep the members safe, such as adding additional transportation to ensure proper social distancing to and from the job site, and adding extra hand-sanitation stations and hand-washing opportunities.
This is a story whose time has come for those Locals with a solid digital recruiting strategy. A message of safety, security, and solidarity built on a foundation of apprenticeship and on-the-job training will sound wildly appealing right now, not to mention an opportunity to build an essential skill set that will last a lifetime. It's a huge recruiting opportunity.
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