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Best Practices: Make Room for Daddy



The construction industry has a unique culture and a rich history steeped in predictable practices based on how it’s “always been done.”

However, as the industry’s business side is forced to deal with fluctuating economics and a workforce with a different face, we still talk about certain practices and expectations as if they are written on stone tablets and part of an immovable set of laws.

The More Things Change…

Legendary Chicago journalist Sydney J. Harris captured this clash of old mindsets and new challenges perfectly.

labor shortage

Everyone understands—and is experiencing—the labor shortage in both the craft and non-craft fields, particularly with Millennial workers.

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time,” he wrote. “What we really want is for things to remain the same, but get better.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with HR and talent development professionals who provide leadership in construction companies nationwide. Such discussions are tremendously valuable both for sharing best practices and for problem-solving shared challenges.

Reaching the New Work Force

The discussion was rich with talk of Millennials (roughly, the generation that reached young adulthood around the year 2000).

Everyone understands—and is experiencing—the labor shortage in both the craft and non-craft fields, particularly with Millennial workers.

HR departments are responding with social media and push/pull strategies to engage and recruit. Creative compensation plans, flexible schedules, career-path and training opportunities are also being used to address the needs and desires of the current recruits.

As the discussion progressed, we began sharing personal experiences to validate and personalize the points being made. One HR director talked about a younger project manager whose wife recently had a baby and how the company was managing his request for paternity leave.

‘One with the Project’

I found it interesting that the project manager felt compelled to provide ample justification for wanting to be home with his new son. “His wife has a toddler to take care of, and she is tired and needs help,” the HR director said. “They live far from the job site and she needs him to be close by.”

man with child
© / Whisman

As a whole, the construction industry has room to grow with respect to family considerations.

She then outlined all the reasons that the company considered and ultimately granted this request. Of course, it was tied to his established sick- and vacation-pay structure and was thus more of a granted request than provision of an additional employee benefit.

Still, the litany of challenges this request caused for the company and the “job” was endless.

It’s is easy to tease out what the real problem is here: A project manager assigned to a job has primary responsibility for that job above all else. It is his sole priority, with limited ability to delegate. Essentially, he is “one with the project.”

Maternal Instinct

This is one of those sacred construction laws, written on one of those stone tablets. Anytime a good project manager needs to be away from the project, we believe the project is at a disadvantage.

As the discussion progressed, however, I looked for an opportunity to ask my burning question: “Do you have any female project managers? How do you handle their request for maternity leave?"

The momentary silence signaled the shift of thinking required to differentiate the position’s gender requirements. Of course, there would need to be maternity leave for female PMs offered as part of the benefit package.

career training
© / lisafx

Career-path and training opportunities are being used to address the needs and desires of the new generation of workers.

Still, no one present had actually had a female PM who had required maternity leave, so there were limited “best practices” to draw from. The discussion took an unexpected stall.

Family First

The implications here are many. If we think about hiring more females into project management, wouldn’t we also be rethinking the PM’s role, evolving it to accommodate either maternity or paternity leave?

As we see more Millennials move into leadership roles, wouldn’t we accommodate their concept of family, which differs from our breadwinning-focused Baby Boomer concept of family?

Couldn’t we begin to evolve the expectation that construction is a male-dominated industry that requires the ranks to be always at work and seldom with family?

Of course, there are companies that have started this journey, and some are doing it well. But I would venture that, as an industry, we still have room for consideration and growth.

About the Author

Shirley Ramos

Shirley Ramos is with FMI Corp.

Shirley Ramos is a training consultant with FMI. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and education, with a master's degree in educational leadership and human resources. She may be reached at 303.398.7213 or



“Building Success” is written by professionals at FMI, the world’s largest provider of management consulting, investment banking, and research for the engineering and construction industry. FMI serves contractors, building materials and equipment producers,architects and engineers,owners and developers,and others across the industry. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.



Tagged categories: Architecture; Construction; Consultants; Engineers; FMI; Good Technical Practice; Business conditions; Business management; Business matters; Business operations; Economy; Jobs; Labor; Managers; Market trends; North America; Personnel; Personnel changes; Project Management; Workers

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