The Secret to Employee Retention

Colorado company’s formula for keeping employees is simple: develop careers and promote from within
The Secret to Employee Retention

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While many contractors nationwide find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain quality skilled laborers, Diversified Underground stands out as an outlier. The company’s formula for success is as simple as potholing a pipe that’s 6 inches underground: Don’t be afraid to hire people with less experience. Pay for employee-development efforts, such as earning a commercial driver’s license. And promote from within whenever possible – make them feel like they have a career, not just a job.

“The key to our success, first and foremost, is the people with the boots on the ground, doing the actual work,” Says Mark Allen, general manager of the company, which is based in Aurora, Colorado, a Denver-area suburb. “It all comes down to hiring the right people.”

While hiring people with little or no experience may seem counterproductive, Allen says it eliminates a vexing problem – people that come aboard with bad habits learned on previous jobs. “We like to teach them our own bad habits, if you will,” he quips. Moreover, someone who’s a good fit for the company’s family-oriented environment but has little experience usually trumps someone with the right experience but is a bad fit, because the former can always get training to fix shortcomings. The latter? Not so much, Allen says.

The company also keeps an open mind about employees’ career paths and tries to promote from within whenever possible. “We have no preconceived profiles – we keep an open mind,” Allen says, noting that the company’s most productive salesperson used to be a directional-drilling superintendent. In another instance, a hydroexcavation laborer moved into utility locating. “We do a lot of home-grown promoting, which is another key to our success,” he says.

“If we have employees that we know want to stick around, we try to give them opportunities to move up and go in a direction they want to go,” he continues. “It’s the difference between having a career and having a job where you work for three months, then move on.” As such, the company will pay for certain kinds of continuing education.

As an example, Allen points to a construction supervisor who started out as a laborer. “He said he wanted more, so we paid to have him get his CDL so he could move into an operator’s position,” he notes. “Now he’s the supervisor of our construction crews.”

There always are exceptions to the rule, however. Sometimes the company hires operators with prior experience, and almost always hires utility locators with previous experience because the job is highly technical in nature. But no matter what the case, investing in employees typically yields benefits. It’s especially helpful in attracting younger employees, such as high school graduates who know they aren’t cut out for college and don’t want to enter the military, but aspire to more than working at a fast-food restaurant, Allen says.

“They come in here and see opportunities for growth,” he explains. “They appreciate it when we invest some time and money in them – give them training that teaches them how to work safely and proficiently and let them feel the sense of family we’ve developed here. When they take that next step, they have a lot of pride not only in the business, but in themselves. They’re thinking, ‘That was me carrying a hose and now I’m out talking to clients.

“That makes them more productive and happy employees,” he adds. “When they see a guy they used to work with become their boss, for example, it gives them a reason to buy into the business. They know there’s somewhere for them to go, which I think is unusual in this industry.”

Read more on Diversified Underground in the January issue of Dig Different.


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