Piling Canada

Making the Construction Site Feel Welcoming

Emerging populations help fill the employment gap
Written by Jon Waldman
April 2024

The face of the construction industry is changing. As an aging population of workers retires, the need to fill vacancies becomes vital for continued success, and this often means looking to new and emerging populations to fill the employment gap.

As cited by the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) in their 2019 business case titled The value of diversity and inclusion in the Canadian construction industry, the populations that will assist in the need for on-site workers are women, Indigenous populations and new Canadians, three demographics that have traditionally shied away from the trades.

Bringing in workers is only half the battle though – retaining a new employee must be top of mind in a job economy that provides endless opportunities. However, all the free pizza lunches will only do so much if a staff member cannot feel comfortable among their co-workers.

“Exclusionary behaviours work directly against the need to belong, and effectively make an employee or colleague feel like they don’t belong, aren’t welcome, and are not part of the group,” the CCA wrote.

“That has a direct impact on productivity, and revenue. Exclusion diminishes employee engagement – the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward their place of work – and that’s just bad for business.”

Not a simple solution

Creating an open environment can be tricky in an industry where tough and rugged are common characteristics. Whether looking to address behaviours on-site or seeking guidance in an off-site issue, workers need to feel they can come to their co-workers or leadership and not feel inferior to their peers.

“The biggest obstacles are the fear of retaliation or being perceived as ‘weak’,” said Natalie Bell, a People and Culture Consulting consultant and leadership coach. “In many male-dominated industries, that cultural norm typically values toughness over vulnerability. This results in employees being hesitant to speak up about it and be seen in a different light by their peers.”

Two construction workers shaking hands on the job site

The good news for business owners is that steering the ship to improved communication starts with having the right people on staff or brought in as consultants. These human resources and/or labour relations professionals are in place to assist business owners, directors and managers with the opportunity to create a proper, open environment.

“HR has to assist leaders with working towards creating a culture where raising a concern is seen as a strength, and ensuring confidentiality in the process,” Bell said.

Language as a barrier

One of the issues that can be prevalent at the work site is off-colour language and risque topics. Unfortunately, this can be a major hurdle in a culture prone to this dialogue. The risk, of course, is that a co-worker could be offended or feel belittled.

There’s something important to recognize off the hop: it’s not just this industry dealing with this concern. “The construction sector is not alone! There are a few other industries in the same predicament,” Bell said.

Bell says that etiquette changes will best occur if high-ranking employees encourage a clean-language environment, and, just as importantly, live by example.

“It sounds cliché, but change begins at the top, the leadership level,” she said. “Leaders have to set clear expectations for what respectful communication looks like in their business and then demonstrate those same values in their own behaviour.”

Of course, language change isn’t something that can happen like the flick of a switch. Instead, a series of toolbox talks or other methods will bring about a change in conduct.

“Regular training and workshops that focus on a respectful workplace and how to communicate in a workplace setting can gradually shift the culture,” Bell said. “Establishing and enforcing policies against inappropriate behaviour firmly and consistently is also key.”

Policies can certainly help break any walls down, but creating a welcoming environment runs deeper than that.

“In any environment, people need to feel as though they can express themselves, and be themselves within the guidelines of a respectful workplace,” Bell said. “Creating a persona to come to work each day is stressful. People start to feel isolated or alienated, and over time that affects not only the individual’s well-being, but the team dynamics and can impact work performance in a negative way.”

Giving every staff member the opportunity to shed that worker persona and feel like they can be true to themselves can only help your business, as the CCA concludes in their business case.

“A thoughtful and practical cultural shift toward diversity and inclusion can drive bottom-line profit by sparking innovation, increasing productivity, reducing turnover, improving safety, increasing your market share and customer base, and enhancing your reputation,” the CCA wrote.

Category: Business

About Us

Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

Sign Up

Submit your email to receive our e-newsletter.