Q&A: Soft skills often overlooked in construction hiring process
Experts say only focusing on technical skills during a job search could be a mistake when trying to build a successful team.
With the industry in the midst of a construction labour crunch, it’s easy to only focus on technical qualifications when conducting a job search. However, talent acquisition experts believe that a candidate’s soft skills are also important and often overlooked. To learn more, SiteNews chatted with Tim Spindlove, a senior search consultant with DMC Recruitment group. Spindlove has 15 years of experience and focuses exclusively on searches within the real estate development and construction industry across Canada and the U.S.
SiteNews: Can you define soft skills and technical skills in the world of construction professionals?
Spindlove: Soft skills are non-technical skills that describe how you work with and interact with others. Technical skills are the specialized knowledge and expertise to perform a certain task or use specific tools or programs.
In the context of a construction setting, we could use a high-rise superintendent as an example. The soft skills required in this role are good communication, problem solving, negotiation, leadership skills, etc.
The technical skills would be experience using concrete to build multi-story buildings, occupational first aid, construction hand and mechanical tools, computer programs, etc.
Do you feel that soft skills are often not as high a priority as technical skills in the industry?
As there is such a shortage of skills in the construction sector in today’s market, hiring managers are so highly focussed on finding the right technical skills, that the equally important soft skills are often overlooked in the interview process.
Taking the time to implement soft skill interview questions will help you weed out capability on the soft skills side of the ledger. Soft skills will help you hire a candidate who can adapt to multiple situations.
Some example interview questions could be:
“Can you discuss a time where you had to manage your team through a difficult situation?”
“How do you prioritize your tasks when you have multiple deadlines?”
“How do you handle an employee who disagrees with your direction?”
“Tell me a bout a time you had to make a decision without managerial approval.”
“Tell me about a time when you failed at a task. What did you learn from this experience.”
For candidates, you want to think about answering these questions using the STAR technique:
S – situation: what was the situation you faced?
T – task: what were you tasked with?
A – action: what action did you take?
R – result: what results did you see as a result?
What are some of the most important soft skills for construction professionals to develop?
The top three, in my opinion, are communication, critical thinking and problem solving, and conflict management.
- Both verbal and nonverbal communication skills are valuable in construction due to the intricate nature of the work that is performed. Nonverbal skills can mean the difference between a successful crane lift and an accident, while verbal communication skills assist in giving and receiving instructions, training, and so much more. Effective and clear communication methods keep people safe, and the projects more effective, making clear communication skills essential.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- Critical thinking and problem solving are also important soft skills required by construction professionals. The ability to envision the project as a whole and adjust as needed is critical to the overall schedule and budget, as well as the ability to adapt when problems arise. Problems are a normal part of any business and knowing what to do when they arise is crucial to solving them.
- Projects do not always run smoothly, and conflicts are bound to happen in any workplace. As a result, the ability to innovate and make the right decision is essential and can mean the difference between a safe and unsafe work environment. Managing conflict effectively will create a more comfortable, safe, and effective environment, and is a vital skill of any construction professional, particularly in a leadership capacity.
What are some common situations in construction where soft skills can be employed?
Let’s use the site superintendent as an example again.
A site superintendent must be able to communicate effectively to develop relationships with employees, contractors, suppliers and other involved parties.
A site superintendent must and utilize problem solving skills daily. When working on projects, you will inevitably face many situations where the answer is not obvious, or there may be various opinions or perspectives that could be correct. Being able to problem solve and produce a solution to that problem is essential to the success of the site superintendent’s job, and ultimately the project as a whole.
What are some ways the soft skills have helped you in your career?
Throughout my career, I’ve always worked in roles that have required high levels of communication, leadership and problem solving. From a young age working in labour type roles, I found communication was so important to not only explain your situation, but also to ask questions effectively, to ensure I understood the jobs I was being tasked with.
As I’ve taken on leadership roles, I’ve really had to hone my communication and problem-solving skills. As I’ve learned over the course on my career, being able to communicate clearly under stressful situations is a game-changer. Then, being able to have the ability think on my feet and problem solve on the go, to deliver results has been vitally important to daily success throughout my career.
What is your advice for professionals or organizations that want to develop better soft skills?
I think there are a few things you can do to improve your soft skills.
- Prioritize which skills to develop. Know the areas that you need to improve upon! Take the time to take stock in your own strengths and weaknesses and analyze both lists. Then compare those areas to areas you feel you need to improve upon to be successful in your career path.
- Ask for feedback from friends, colleagues, and managers. By asking for feedback, you’ll likely uncover some blind spots.
- Don’t be afraid to step out of your daily comfort zone and challenge yourself. We are all likely more confident around close friends than we are in uncertain situations at work. So, get into a setting where you must step out of your comfort zone. As an introvert, this might look like joining a group project or activity.
- Finding course online. There is a wealth of educational tools online to help you fill in skills gaps. LinkedIn for example has a wealth of free learning resources to help with soft skills like leadership or business communication.
- ABC. Always Be Communicating…? Doesn’t sound quite as cool as the movie line, but I digress. The more you communicate, the better you’ll become.