The Labor Shortage: 9 Ways to “close the back door.”

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Like the script on your rear view mirror, the construction industry’s labor shortage is closer than it may appear.
The Associated General Contractors (AGC) found that 84% of commercial firms nationwide are experiencing a labor shortage.
Residential home building is feeling the crunch as well. In a recent article titled, Trade Wars, Les Shaver of Professional Builder magazine noted “70% of builders and general contractors across the country cited “labor” as their No. 1 challenge.”
So . . . what do we do?
Simply put, Executives must change corporate behavior to retain their best employees and subcontractors. In the commercial building sector, the phrase “closing the back door,” has been gaining momentum as a metaphor for companies hoping to keep their best craft workers in house.


In the spirit of back door closing, here are 9 ways to do just that:


Quit saying “Close the back door.”
Why do we need to “close the back door” when Hispanic workers leave your company, but we need to “improve retention” when it refers to anyone else?
Quit saying it.
Your Hispanic craftworkers are not sneaking out the back door—they’re walking out the front door like everyone else. They’re just not coming back. Find out why.


Talk to them.
Job sites routinely have a small cadre of English-speakers “leading” hundreds of Spanish-speaking workers.
How, exactly, do you lead workers without ever talking to them?
You don’t.
At best your leadership is playing a professional version of the childhood game, “Telephone.” I tell you, you tell him, he translates it into Spanish and tells everyone else.
No bueno.
You know communication is critical to getting the job done right the first time.
Why would comunicación be any different?
Talk to them.


Know your numbers.
55M: number of Hispanics in the US (18% of total population)
44M: documented Hispanics (yes, 80% are here legally)
25%: percentage of U.S. newborns that are Hispanic
27: median age of U.S. Hispanics
41: median age of U.S. Whites
2: Hispanics are 2x as likely to be injured on killed on your job site
2050: the decade the Hispanic population boom levels off


Understand their culture.
During Red Angle Construction Spanish language training programs and Cultural IQ workshops, we ask this question:
How well do you understand Hispanic cultures and how they affect worker behavior?
Guess what percentage of respondents reply with “not at all” or “slightly” ?
While your job site team is expected to persuade, influence, communicate and well, lead the workers on your job, 8 out of 10 of them have little or no idea why the workers behave the way they do.
Culture eats strategy for lunch.
No culture = no strategy.
Understand culture and only then you can influence behavior.


Survey for happiness.
Engaged, appreciated, and fairly-compensated employees don’t quit their jobs.
They don’t quit because they are happy. These employees become your best recruiters. They attract top talent from other firms whose employees are not happy.
Then you have top talent whose close friends work with them. This becomes a positive feedback loop, attracting an ever-increasing more talented team of workers.
So how do you know if your Hispanic employees are engaged, appreciated, and fairly-compensated?
Talk to them (see DOS above).
Survey them quarterly.
Track the results.
Act upon their feedback.


Understand our Bracero Mentality.
The U.S. has developed a playbook when it comes to employing Hispanic labor.
It’s our Bracero Mentality.
This 2-step process sums it up succinctly:

  1. Invite Hispanic labor to the U.S. when we need it.
  2. Kick them out when the next recession rolls in.

Wash, rinse and repeat for 100+ years.
As you’d expect, this has failed to engender trust.

Whether it’s construction workers or farm workers, we’ve been remarkably consistent in sticking to the script of our Bracero Mentality.

Never heard of the Bracero Program?
Click here:


Pay them more.
The median wealth of Hispanic households in the U.S. is $7,683.
As for White households?
More money doesn’t guarantee engagement, but it doesn’t hurt. Find creative ways to reward your best workers with “near-money”—gift cards, prepaid calling cards, plane tickets, etc.


Watch César Chávez.
You’ll recognize Michael Peña from his other mainstream movies.
The girl from Ugly Betty is in it.
John Malkovich is in it.
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It’s a fantastic movie and will provide valuable context for understanding the Hispanic labor perspective.


Focus your HR team.
Adult Hispanics are half as likely as whites to work as managers & professionals.
Encourage your HR team to think strategically and creatively. Connect with Hispanic workers’ children (high school or college age) and make them aware of careers at your firm.
Recruit interns.
Coordinate co-ops.
Schedule job tours.
It’s a long term strategy with short-term gains.


Look in rear view.
The construction industry’s labor shortage is closer than it may appear.
But don’t waste too much time looking back—el futuro es más importante.

There is no silver bullet. However, deploying a combination of direct communication, cultural understanding, incentives, rewards, and sincere appreciation will be a great start.




Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (, a training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry.    

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Categories: Jobsite Leadership

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2 replies

  1. Nice article 😉 I’m printing this one out! -James

    Sent from my iPhone


  1. Abs are made in the kitchen: a labor shortage analogy – The Red Angle

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