Executive Corner: Developing Young Workers

Charter Homes & Neighborhoods' Rob Bowman shares his thoughts on the next generation of home builders.

By Mike Beirne, Editor | March 26, 2014

Charter Homes & Neighborhoods has built more than 4,300 homes since Rob Bowman founded the company in 1990. Along the way, the central Pennsylvania builder has won coveted recognition, such as the 2013 National Housing Quality Gold Award, and numerous design honors for creating communities with mixed housing, walkable amenities, and centrally located outdoor space for neighborhood events. More than a quarter of Charter’s 117 full-time employees are younger than 30 years old. Bowman recently shared his observations about recruiting, mentoring, and motivating young workers.

Q: Is it difficult to recruit young people to work in this industry since they’ve seen what happened to building companies and tradesmen during the downturn? 
A: No, not as a result of the economy. If you’re an organization that has a deeper purpose than making money or building houses, we find people are very interested in being a part of something like that. Our focus is on neighborhood building and creating special places. We’ve found that is a very valuable story when it comes to recruiting people into the industry. 
Q: Does Charter have a mentoring program/culture?
A: We spend quite a bit of time on formalized training, and there’s a lot of material we give people to read and educate themselves with. But we think mentoring and having someone who can show you the ropes and put what we want to do into practice is a huge part or our success and what we count on to grow the team. On the day you join Charter, you’re paired with a mentor, and they are one of several people who check in on you on a regular basis and work proactively with you to make sure you understand why we do things at Charter and how to most effectively get things done. 
Q: Should builders make building a more pleasant experience (pay, predictability) in order to attract younger talent?
A: Historically, when I look back at the darkest days of the business, I realize that I was surrounded by really good people who were giving 110 percent. While they probably stayed here because jobs in this industry were few and far between, we achieved a level of commitment to our homebuyers and to the company that I honestly couldn’t quite put my finger on until I really gave it some thought. We spent a couple years thinking through what it is that motivates people and what it is that makes them care as much as our team members at Charter do. What I realized at that time was people want to work for something significant, some bigger reason than to simply make money or to build homes. People want to work for a paycheck, but they also want to contribute to something more significant than that. So we spent a great deal of time focusing on our strategy and why we do what we do, and realized the Charter team shares a passion. That’s what energizes us and really keeps us focused on moving forward and ultimately causes other people to join the team. 
Q: Do you see any attributes that are particular to your younger employees?
A: The conversation about what makes this age group different is, I think, tiring. We’re trying to put labels on people. What I found is this group, like every other one, responds incredibly well to great leadership, to direction, to strategic thinking, to learning, to all the things that any great employee in any organization would really want. I think they may be challenging the status quo a little bit in terms of demanding to know exactly what we expect from them. I encourage them and tell them to keep asking. I want them to influence us, to make sure that the people setting direction in the company are doing it clearly and effectively. That way, everyone who comes into work can do what I think they want to do—which is to make a contribution. I don’t know if it’s because our industry is coming out of this slump that we look at this generation and say, ‘Oh, they’re different.’ If we just play at the top of our game, this group will respond the way we need them to and want them to. PB


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