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Ten Tips for Staying Employed in the Construction Industry

By Bob Oedy
Special to BTN

Ever wonder why some in construction manage to work year-round while others seem to bounce from contractor to contractor? “What’s their secret?” you might ask. Are they just lucky? Perhaps, but there are some things you can do to even the odds.

Did you know that most Foremen know exactly who they are going to let go weeks before they ever hand out a pink slip? It’s a standard practice in construction to make a “Lay off List” with the names of the workers on a crew in order of production. Call it a “Lay off List,” a “Head Count,” a “Totem Pole” – call it whatever you like, but you’re on it. The real question is, “Are you on the top or the bottom?”

Often a Foreman will be told, “Lay off three workers” and given only a moment to make the decision. The names on the bottom are the first to go. You may not be aware that it’s a fluid list and that names move up and down as production increases and decreases. It’s not just productivity that plays a role in who stays or who goes; let’s not kid ourselves, obviously there’s room for prejudices and cronyism to take place as well, but we won’t get into that now.

By the way, your Foreman’s not the only one deciding who stays and who goes. It may be a Project Manager or even a customer that may see you leaning against a ladder and make a split second evaluation of your work ethic. It’s not fair. That’s for sure, but unless your reputation as a hard worker precedes you, it might be too late for anyone to step in and rescue you.

Some will work on many jobsites and somehow manage to miss the lay offs. Is it because they’re luckier than the next person? No. It’s just that they know the ten tips for staying employed in the construction industry.

  1. Walk with a Purpose – Get in the habit of walking with a purpose. Don’t meander around on a construction site.
  2. Pack a Lunch – You’ll save money. You’ll eat healthier and when the lunch truck doesn’t show it won’t matter.
  3. Show up Everyday – Even if you’re an average worker you’ll outlast those who don’t.
  4. Show up On Time – This one really pays.
  5. Be Flexible – Be prepared to do any task assigned. It all pays the same.
  6. Update your Skills – Take industry related classes.
  7. Be Reachable – Buy an answering machine or cell phone.
  8. Have Reliable Transportation – Buy the best running vehicle you can afford.
  9. Have A Positive Attitude – There’s no such thing as “can’t” in construction.
  10. Look the Part – Dress like a professional tradesman. You get 30 seconds to make that first impression.

Well there you have it; ten tips to staying employed in the construction industry. They may seem obvious, but if that’s the case why are so many workers caught in the rut of constantly being let go? If you’re fortunate enough to work with some of the best tradesmen in the field, you’ll notice that they seem to have these qualities. Consider yourself lucky. Not everyone has the pleasure of apprenticing with such professionals. If you follow these simple steps, you will stay employed longer, earn more money and avoid having to tell your family that the holidays are going to be tight this year. Still, it’s a good idea to save a little money for those slow periods.

Do you know someone who’s in need of a little guidance, perhaps a new apprentice or even a journeyman who just can’t seem to stay employed? Why not take a moment to print this article and share the knowledge that might help that person reach their full potential. Some things are best shared.

Bob Oedy is an organizer with IBEW Local 11. His forthcoming book, Bigger Labor: Nuts and Bolts Construction Union Organizing, is due out later this year. Visit Bob’s web site at: http://unionorganizer.blogspot.com/


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