Be supportive, diplomatic and add fun

Jake Birchall has worked for Julian and Tania Robertson at Get Plastered in Christchurch for a number of years now. “I was 15 when I started and I didn’t even know what plastering was. I got on well with the crew and that entices you more to come to work every day," says Jake.

Jake has thrived at Get Plastered. He was even a finalist in Resene’s Apprentice of the Year competition. “We were so proud of him!” said Tania.

We asked Jake what his plans for the future are and he very quickly replied, “I’m not going to leave ever, I like it here.” Having staff committed long term to working in your business is a great position to be in considering the cost of recruitment.

Get Plastered TeamJulian sees the value in supporting his young team in what they want to achieve personally. “Jakes wants to go to Europe next year and we are happy to support that goal. He will be coming back broke as hell and hungry for money so perfect to re-employ,” says Julian. Keeping the door open for staff to return if they choose to leave is important according to Tania, who says, “We understand some of them are going to want to go out on their own and we are supportive of that. You have to let them go and sometimes they come back.“

Supporting apprentices through their study is also a priority for Julian. “Last thing they want to see is a big stack of books, so we go through the paperwork together, we set a few hours aside to go through it on a rainy day. We don’t want to make it daunting or for it to seem unachievable,” he said.

Julian and Tania have created a family work environment by taking their staff on some exciting adventures. “We’ve taken them white water rafting, deep sea fishing, even to a Seven Days gig, it’s pretty cool, and these are things they will remember,” said Julian.

It is not just about having fun with the staff. Julian and Tania also help them in practical ways, “The reality is most young people don’t have a full Driver’s License and money can be a barrier. Jake learned how to drive in one of the work trucks and we helped him financially to get his License,” said Tania. This was beneficial to both Jake and the business.

Tania and Julian also recognise that you have to provide boundaries, particularly for the young team they currently have. “We are trying to get to that middle zone where we are supportive but there are limits and staff have to understand the rules. We have very good senior staff who are very competent at their job, and their role with labourers and apprentices. I am still ‘at the coal face’ with the training of our apprentices as it is where I really thrive, ensuring the next generation of exterior plasterers ... it’s not all about having fun but also teaching these kids some basic-serious life skills,” said Julian.

We asked Julian why he felt he doesn’t have any issues finding new staff. “I have a young team so the dynamic is different, you have to be supportive and diplomatic when they do something not quite right, explain there are consequences and they could be severe down the road. It is also important to have a bit of fun,” says Julian.

The number of young people in New Zealand coming out of school and looking for work is shrinking. The level of construction work in New Zealand is at a 40-year high. These two factors mean that employers have to seriously consider how attractive they are to prospective employees when career seekers have so many options to choose in the current environment.

Here are some things we know can contribute towards being a good employer:

  • Have employee first mentality – You can‘t control outputs like quality work or customer satisfaction without supporting inputs, such as everyday employee actions and behaviours.
  • Know what motivates employees – "In the past, people wanted to join a company. Today they want to follow a vision and join a team" - Wade Burgess, LinkedIn. You need to ensure that your offering is beyond pay and job security.
  • Understand that employees work in days, not years – provide regular feedback. Don’t wait for the annual performance review.
  • Respect - Treat employees like customers – think of how you invest in prospective and current customers trying to find them, understand them better, retain them and communicate specifically to them.
  • Don’t just measure – Act – have your finger on the pulse and engage with employees on a weekly basis and deal with smoke before fire.
  • Involvement - employees feel involved if they have the opportunity to make suggestions and have input on work processes that affect their job.
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