Construction hiring can be a challenge in today’s environment. My name is Michael Willhite, owner of Willhite Grading & Excavation, a grading and excavation contractor based in Santa Barbara, California. This is my interview with Construction Equipment Magazine on working to overcome today’s hiring challenges.
Article originally appeared on Construction Equipment.
Young adults are increasingly turning away from a profession in the trades, and construction companies are suffering from a lack of skilled labor to replace an aging workforce. Mike Willhite, a 40 Under 40 in Construction Equipment winner, may have found a way to reach millennials and pique their interest in construction work.
Construction hiring in a social media world
When searching for new hires Willhite goes to Instagram, or rather Instagram comes to him.
As the owner of Willhite Grading & Excavation, Willhite has created a robust social media presence, particularly on Instagram. Between his three accounts (@willhitegrading, @miniearthmovers_daily, @GXearthworxapparel) Willhite has racked up roughly 27,000 followers.
But Instagram “likes” and “comments” aside, many users who find Willhite’s business on the app, are using it to network and land a job in the construction field.
Which is exactly what Carlos Garcia did, a young worker looking for an opportunity to learn about heavy excavation work.
Garcia contacted Willhite via Instagram’s direct message feature and expressed an interest in working for his company. Willhite first browsed Garcia’s account to see whether or not he would be an appropriate fit for his company.
“If they’re smart, they’ll be running their Instagram how I do. I run my Instagram like a business. I keep it professional. I keep it on topic,” Willhite said.
Garcia’s photos demonstrated to Willhite that he was proficient in operating basic compact equipment and open to learning more about heavy excavation work.
“I would call this guy a landscaper-type quality operator, which means they know how to run mini equipment and they know how to work on the top-level, but they don’t understand deep excavation,” Willhite said.
Garcia’s novice skill level was not a deal breaker for Willhite, instead it turned into a dialogue of what Garcia’s goals were should he be hired. And he was, his job progression started with the task of digging up roots using equipment the first month on the job.
Willhite also uses Instagram to hire skilled operators and trusts the social media platform over traditional methods of finding workers.
“I’m a small company,” Willhite said, “I can’t afford to blindly hire. Instagram allows me to pinpoint my hiring. I get a lot more bang for my buck.”
Willhite views job posting sites such as Craigslist as a risky way to hire workers.
“If I get in a bind, I will put a post on Craigslist. I won’t hire operators off of Craigslist, only if I need laborers,” Willhite said.
Instead, Willhite trusts the visual component Instagram offers and feels it reveals the true nature about someone better than a resume ever could.
“From a hiring point of view, if I’m really looking for a good person, I have nothing to go on except what they’ve written. Resumes don’t mean anything to me. I don’t care who you’ve worked for really. I just want to know if you’re any good or not and the best way to do that is through photos,” Willhite said.
Willhite posted a photo of a construction site to @willhitegrading. The operator performing the excavation work in the photo direct-messaged him.
“I actually had seen him work, but didn’t realize it was him until he contacted me,” Willhite said.
Once Willhite Grading & Excavation secures a large construction job, where he can afford to take on more operators, Willhite will now have a reliable and experienced worker to fill the position.
Overcoming construction hiring obstacles
Willhite has created the hashtag #DirtWorkisArt, where he posts related work. It has quickly caught on with operators active on Instagram.
“I now I have this feed where really good operators post their finest work. So that just cleans out all the riff raff,” Willhite said.
Willhite realizes he may be one of the pioneers in this method of hiring but draws on his personal experience coming up through the ranks in heavy civil construction work.
“It’s like no one cared about my work, it was all about what I could fill out on a form,” Willhite said.
Wilhite recalls working down in the trenches when he first began his career in the construction industry. He vowed to “do it differently” when he ran his own business and continues to stick to that promise.