With a panel that included a marketer, a VDC manager, an MEP industry professional, and an innovation leader, the discussion about sharing construction success stories was bound to be full of practical ideas. Panelists included: Travis Voss (Leader of Innovative Technology, Helm Mechanical), Todd Weyandt (Applied Software Director of Creative Marketing and host of Bridging the Gap podcast), Adam Davis (VDC Manager, Lighthouse Electric Company), and Brandon Patterson (Advocate, Iowa Skilled Trades).
It’s no secret in the construction industry that the younger generation of workers is not busting down the doors to work in those chic, cushy, construction jobs. A story was established a long time ago, founded in reality, that construction is difficult, dirty and dangerous. But, even though the cushy jobs are few, there are plenty these days that don’t even require using a hammer or a drill. Brandon stressed, “There are so many careers in the MEP industry.”
In construction the variety is broad: solar photovoltaic installer, elevator mechanic, surveyor, planner, purchasing coordinator, computer/robotic programmer, scheduler, safety director, estimator, contract administrator, IT staff, accountant, AR/VR specialist. The list continues to expand as the industry adopts new technologies and innovations. One attendee, Christopher, suggested, “We need to make construction ‘sexy’.”
The challenge is that most people entering the workforce today are not aware of the variety of construction options. The industry needs to have a massive public relations campaign, especially to combat the skilled labor shortage. Of the labor situation, Brandon observed, “Bites are being taken out of our workforce.” His vision of PR for the industry includes, “taking our story back.”
“In construction we fail at sharing our successes,” Travis lamented, and Todd explained, “There is humility in the industry.” This brings the pitfall of passiveness. On the other hand, the peril inherent in a labor-short industry is that people are too busy to reflect on the project just finished, because another one has already been put into motion. Still, a concerted marketing effort is important. Adam said, “We all agree that’s something that we would benefit from. A rising tide floats all ships higher.”
The marketing problem the industry faces involves multiple potential audiences. Contractors need to connect with them to share their stories. Schools, counselors, recruiters, people just entering the workforce, trade associations, state boards of education – each needs a different type of marketing campaign. Recalling career fairs, Adam pointed out, “High schoolers have already made their mind up” about what they’re going to do. “We need to reach out to K-8 kids.”
And Travis reminded everyone, “The industry needs to be educated itself. It’s important to tell your story internally.”
One platform for success stories that rings true for multiple audiences is social media. As one panelist put it, “We need new ways to go where those people are.”
Todd warned of an overarching mistake companies make in their marketing: “You are not the hero of the story. We want to tell our side of it, but you are the guide.” The audience is the hero, and they need to meet the people with the stories. A story needs to be something people can relate to. It needs to be a human story, which is not easy because of the tradition for humility. Somehow that humility needs to be balanced with pride in a job well done. Adam reminded, “A lesson learned doesn’t have to be a bad thing.” Educate through your story. Frame it from the vantage point of your history and experience. Travis further encouraged, “Take action; don’t be shy.”
Let’s say you do share your company’s story. Do you lose your competitive advantage by doing so? The panelists jumped all over that. “There’s more to a competitive advantage than just the information you share in a story,” Adam said. Brandon added, “Your competitive advantage comes from the value you bring.” And Travis clarified, “Your competitive advantage is your people and your culture.” Your company is unique because of them, and other companies can’t duplicate that.
If you missed this informative and energizing roundtable discussion, you can access it on demand on day 3 of the agenda on the MEP Force 2021 website.