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Next-Gen Hiring Practices for Home Builders

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Human Resources

Next-Gen Hiring Practices for Home Builders

Instead of hiring purchasing professionals with experience (and baggage), go for the green to mold your ideal team


By Tony Callahan, Contributing Editor January 8, 2021
Graduation cap on a stack of ladders
In hiring, Tony Callahan targets three specific academic programs: 
Supply Chain Management (SCM), Business Administration, and Accounting. | Illustration: Kwstas | stock.adobe.com
This article first appeared in the January 2021 issue of Pro Builder.

Bringing new talent into the home building industry is of paramount importance, but as an industry we’ve done a poor job of training purchasing professionals. I can’t count how many so-called experienced candidates I’ve hired, only to train (or “retrain”) them with a strategic focus and understanding of supply chain management.

Having the wrong person in purchasing is one of the most expensive mistakes a home builder can make. Keep in mind that we don’t actually build anything; rather, we buy all of the materials and labor needed to build our homes. So, if you’re not purchasing well, your business is doomed from the start. 

With that, the world is getting smaller and the supply chain more complex. We need people who understand that dynamic and are willing to invest the time required to navigate through it.

The world is getting smaller and the supply chain more complex. We need people who understand that dynamic and are willing to invest the time required to navigate through it.

Disappointed in the skill level of most of the so-called experienced candidates I was interviewing, I switched to seeking out intelligent, computer-savvy, eager-to-learn recent college graduates.

Three years later, I’ve learned a lot, not only validating my new approach, but also helping me to hone those practices.

Targeting Next-Gen Candidates

I target three specific academic programs: 
Supply Chain Management (SCM), Business Administration, and Accounting. But my preference is for SCM bachelor’s or master’s degrees. 

Why? SCM graduates and post-graduates come with a fundamental understanding of the supply chain—a critical component to effective purchasing in the home building industry. They don’t assume that an installing trade is the answer to all of their challenges. They understand the need to know all of the installers in a given market, which materials distributors they use, and who manufacturers those materials ... as well as competing materials. 

In short, one can’t achieve true channel efficiency without engaging the entire supply chain. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted this fact. After all, how many times has one of your installers called to say they can’t get material? In that instance, a true supply chain professional would have alternatives at the ready instead of relying on the installing trade for answers. 

Assess Yourself ... and Adjust

It’s also necessary to assess the complex roles in your organization. If you’re like most builders, you can’t simply add more people to your organization. But you can create new roles with the same head count.

For example, suppose you have purchasing administrators and purchasing agents. It’s difficult for an administrator to make the leap to purchasing agent without some level of experience. To accommodate the transition and develop bench strength for future purchasing agents, create an 
assistant purchasing agent role to bridge the gap. Individuals in this role would spend half of their time on administrative work and half on lower-spend purchasing agent work.

Breaking down current complex roles in-to smaller positions designed to train new graduates also provides an attractive career path.

For instance, it would be a lot to expect a recent graduate to start as a purchasing agent. However, if you hire them as a purchasing administrator and teach them your systems, and then promote them to assistant purchasing agent responsible for low-value categories and teach them how to purchase and manage the supply chain, they could then take the next 
step to become a purchasing agent. Only then would you feel more comfortable about having them manage those large-spend categories. 

And, as they grow and continue to perform, be sure to pay them competitively in each new role and increased responsibility. Neglect that piece and you’ll end up being a training ground for other builders. 

Go to the Source 

Finding candidates can be difficult, so get some help—from the source. Develop a relationship with a local college or university that offers the degrees you seek (it doesn’t have to be local, but it does make it easier), and specifically with the professors of that coursework. Offer to speak to their classes or to sponsor a class project.

Consider hiring interns. That way, students get to know you and your company.

Sometimes students will lock in a job at the start or midway through their senior year, so it also pays to get to know the people in the career placement office. Educate them about the benefits of a career in home building, both in conversation and with any materials or online resources you can leave behind for them and for students. 


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Post your positions on the university’s career sites. Attend job fairs, even when you don’t have an open position, and staff them with employees who have recently graduated—and ideally been promoted since coming on board.

They are in the best position to educate other students about the value of working for your company and the industry and are in a unique position, having navigated successfully within your business. 

With that, network with recent hires who started at your company right after graduating. Chances are they’ll know classmates who are looking for a job and will be great advocates for your company and for the industry. Some of the best people I’ve hired straight out of college hadn’t previously considered a career in the home building industry. Do a better job of educating university students about this career option and you can reap the rewards.

Get Ready Internally

As you build those relationships and keep your company’s name in front of college students, you should also develop a cross-functional panel from within your company to interview college-age applicants. 

I recommend drawing people from purchasing, accounting, human resources, and construction to give a new applicant a solid overall feel for the business and its parts. Remember, the interview process isn’t just about you evaluating an applicant, it’s also an opportunity for the applicant to get to know and evaluate your company.

It's everyone’s responsibility to bring new talent into our industry. Doing so is paramount to home building’s long-term success. 

Someone who is not committed to your organization won’t stay long. Why not do all you can to expose them to the organization before they’re hired?

In summary, it is everyone’s responsibility to bring new talent into our industry. Doing so is paramount to home building’s long-term success. 

Start by breaking large, complex roles into smaller, more trainable roles in which people without experience can be successful. Establish a career path where they can grow as they demonstrate competence in their role. Target specific degrees and specific colleges and universities that are known for educational excellence and applicants who would be most likely to succeed in these roles. Use a cross-functional team to interview and select the most qualified applicants. Utilize your network of new hires—impending or recent graduates—to identify additional candidates. These simple steps can help usher in the next generation. 

 

Written By

Tony L. Callahan, CPSM, CSCP, has worked in the home building industry for nearly two decades. 

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