Contractors focus on HR growth, specialized approaches, geographic expansion
Many of Central Pennsylvania's biggest general contractors saw revenue rise in 2016, much as it has for the past few years as the economy regained its footing.
While most contractors expect to see another good year this year with a steady pipeline of projects, company leaders also are looking ahead, especially on the staffing side, where the workforce is aging and skilled young people are hard to find.
Last year, Kinsley Construction Inc., the midstate’s largest general contractor created a new position — talent development manager — to supplement its human resources function and help build a stronger team.
Since then, the York Township-based company has hired a full-time recruiter so the manager can focus on onboarding and working with younger employees on potential career paths with the company. Kinsley has nearly 1,200 people.
“I think a lot of newer folks see (the manager) as a resource to help them progress,” said Jon Kinsley, the company’s president and COO.
Younger workers today often switch jobs more often, but they want to know what their career might look like if they remain with a company. They also prize transparency and work-life balance.
Kinsley has been focusing more on reaching skilled people at a younger age. The company recently partnered with the York County Alliance for Learning on a new construction pre-apprenticeship program, plus growing its internship program.
“We’re doing a lot more internships to get them to know us, and hopefully when they graduate from college we can bring them on board,” Kinsley said.
At the same time, Kinsley has a lot of people who may be retiring in the next five years. Many companies froze hiring during the recession. The freezes led many seasoned construction workers to jobs in other industries. As a result, Kinsley and other contractors have noticeable age gaps between 30 and 50 in their workforces.
But the addition of new offices has helped Kinsley. In the last two years, the company has added employees in the Virginia area to tackle industrial projects that have been popping up. Bigger apartment projects in the Baltimore area have also fueled staffing growth, as well as retail centers and distribution work in the Lehigh Valley and toward Philadelphia.
“We can be more flexible,” Kinsley said. “We are geographically spread out and the industries we’re in are more diverse. If people want to move to Allentown, we can accommodate.”
Over the next five to 10 years, he said he’s hoping to open additional offices farther south and west, which could open up more opportunities for the company’s workforce. Kinsley finished 2016 with $590.7 million in revenue, up from $432.7 million in 2015.
Mike Callahan, president of Benchmark Construction Co. Inc. in West Earl Township, would love to open a branch office in the next few years.
That branch could be in the Baltimore area as the company has been picking up work south of Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Callahan also has family in the area.
Until then, he is focused on growing more in existing markets.
Benchmark finished last year with revenue of $133.1 million, up about 30 percent from 2015.
“Part of what helped us along was that we restructured in the previous year,” he said.
Benchmark went away from a more traditional department structure and adopted a more specialized approach to tackle the company’s core markets of senior living, higher education, health care and commercial/specialty construction.
Rather than a department of estimators expected to have a working knowledge of all markets, Benchmark has estimators for each market who work closely with other construction disciplines in that segment.
“It allows us to generate more business,” he said. “We can deliver better service and run through the preconstruction process quicker.”
And that approach hasn’t hurt recruitment. If anything, it helps because people can become leaders in one market.
Benchmark also has done well over the last three years with onsite job fairs designed to find and hire field staff, such as carpenters.
Jobs big and small
For Silver Spring Township-based R.S. Mowery & Sons Inc., which does business as Mowery, new owner David Cross has been trying to build more staffing overlap into key positions to better prepare for planned and surprise departures of senior leaders. He’s always talking to potential recruits, even those without construction experience, to identify skills that might fit the growing company.
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Part of his focus has been on personality testing to match employees to roles they can grow into, while building a better onboarding and mentoring process that can help retain talent and boost team communication.
Cross, who has children in college, recognizes that the workforce is getting younger and that expectations are changing. He said he doesn’t want people sitting there thinking about what’s next for them.
“We want to answer that question for them,” he said.
Mowery also has branched into small adaptive reuse projects, mostly urban renovations under $500,000, with a new team formed last year. The team, led by Harrisburg developer Derek Dilks, not only has helped Mowery diversify, but also elevate its name in communities such as York.
Cross lives in York and has been leading the city’s redevelopment authority. Dilks has been investing in York real estate, including the Pullman Apartments on North George Street.
Ideally, Dilks and his special project team will help Mowery compete for smaller office projects, as well as residential and retail work, which should boost revenue and complement the company’s work on larger projects, which include warehouses, college facilities, auto dealerships and senior living facilities.
Those markets continue to grow, especially when it comes to warehouse work.
In a little more than nine months, the special projects group did close to $3 million in revenue, Cross said. The company finished last year overall with $146.3 million in revenue, up from $137.6 million in 2015.