By Bart Gragg and Peter Krammer

Workforce development—recruiting, training, promoting, and retaining—could be a complex system for company leadership to build and maintain. But broken into components, it’s a series of simplified building blocks for the future. 

For many reasons, construction company leaders habitually maintain a focus on short-term, quarter-by-quarter, project-by-project objectives. Building and maintaining a workforce development system requires a longer view. 

The key is for leaders to answer this question: “How many of what kinds of people over how many years will we need to complete projects safely, on-time, with exceptional quality and profitability?” The answer serves as a vision—a long-term view the entire organization should work toward for each project, quarter-by-quarter. 

To be successful in this effort, leaders must get department heads, managers, and supervisors to engage in workforce development while continuing to complete projects. The leader’s role is to provide the roadmap, while the managers and supervisors handle the tactics. In this way, the best leaders teach their managers to think strategically and act tactically.


To begin, it’s vital to assess how effective your existing recruiting and staffing efforts are in order to move forward. Review role definitions and make sure you know why the role exists for each position. This is more than a typical job description. In some cases, you may have to get down to the task level for clarity. Important issues to investigate include:

  • How well-defined are career paths for people joining your company? Everyone wants to know they have a shot at growth, and the help to get there. Make sure you include things like wages and training when considering this answer. 
    Defining career paths has several benefits. For employees, a career path offers a vision of long-term growth and stability; for the company, it ensures that jobs can be accomplished, and identifies any skills gaps that would prevent job completion. For both parties, you’ll know and agree on who is accountable for what objectively.
  • How engaged are team members in problem resolution and decision-making? You’ll need to decide who should be involved in this process, then make sure they feel safe enough to speak up. 
  • How safe is your environment and what role do team members have in promoting safety for themselves and others? Almost every company we work with declares that every employee has the right to stop work if they don’t feel safe or understand the process. But whether that happens in practice depends on the corporate, and more specifically, the team culture.


You want the development process to be as smooth as possible so pitfalls, obstructions, and barriers need to be removed. So, once you’ve determined how effective your current process is, the next step is to pinpoint where the system breaks down. This is critical because if you don’t know where the current pitfalls are then adding more layers and methods just covers them up—but they’re still there, waiting to eat up time, money, and effort.

In a planning session for heavy equipment movement, we saw the two most common conflicts when it comes to change. A supervisor resisted the need to plan—after all, they had made 80 moves like this before. That was right after a new employee admitted he was scared to participate in the move because he didn’t know anything about moving equipment. So we had resistance to change and fear of shame. The solution happened when another supervisor recognized the conflict and got involved.

  • What is causing the breakdowns along the way? Is it people, process, or both?
  • How do internal forces like politics, silos, or the corporate culture contribute to breakdowns? 
  • What external influences need to be clarified and controlled?


Finally, and the toughest part, is to renovate your system and write a plan. Managers and supervisors need to understand their jobs exist to make or save money—the results go to the bottom line in many different ways. And saving money, like reducing fuel and maintenance costs due to the idling of engines, can free up funds for people development.

  • Redefine the long-term outcome–what does workforce development need to look like in your company? How many people in each sector of your business will you need in order to survive, and how many more will you need to grow?
  • How will you get there–given the competing demands of finances, projects, customers, and employees? What needs attention and how can you innovate to solve the problems?
  • Prioritize the work–if you have a turnover problem, what needs to happen to fix it? If you need training, how will you fund it? If you need funding, how will you create it? Developing leadership down to the field level is critical to success. How will you do that?

Remember, every company is unique, and another company’s design won’t work for yours. That’s because your processes and culture are what make your company unique. 


Building a system piecemeal or working on it only when you have a little extra time and money won’t get the results you need. And short-circuiting the effort wastes resources, kills momentum and morale, and ultimately leads to failure. In workforce development, short-term thinking is your enemy. Building a roadmap, and following it, is how you control the beast. 

About The Authors

Peter Krammer has been helping leaders put their heads and their hearts into their businesses for more than 30 years. Peter, senior partner with Okos Partners, is a consultant, trainer, program designer, entrepreneur, and jazz musician. For information on how Okos Partners helps businesses align their business and people strategies, visit

Bart Gragg is president of Blue Collar University. He works with business leaders, managers, and supervisors to plan and work more effectively with each other. Bart is an advisor, trainer, barrel racer, and photographer. For more information on how to engage Bart as a speaker or advisor visit, or call him at 925.354.0277.

Bart and Peter are co-authors of the upcoming book, The Trouble with the Safety Curve: What and How We have to Change to Get to Zero Incidents.

Modern Contractor Solutions, May 2021
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