Good Enough for your Daughter...Good Enough for the Jobsite

Good Enough for your Daughter...Good Enough for the Jobsite: Apearance, Professionalism, and Branding in the Union Construction Industry: Your lovely little girl. The apple of your eye. Your daughter who has you wrapped around her little finger has just come home and announced her engagement. To a guy that you have never met. You’re less than thrilled. By Mark Breslin

What is the first question you ask her? “Is he nice? What kind of family does he come from? Do you really love him?” No. You’re going to ask her, “so what does this guy do for a living?” And she replies with dreamy eyes, that he’s a Teamster.

Now you being a construction guy are feeling a little conflicted. Marital hopes for your daughter perhaps; doctor, lawyer… Teamster. You are not so sure. She tells you he is going to drop by to take her out to lunch this very day. And precisely at that moment, the doorbell rings. You walk to the door, take a breath and open it. And find yourself staring into the face of a handsome young man. A Teamster. In his sharp UPS brown uniform.

What do you think about her choice now?

THREE QUESTIONS ON APPEARANCE, ATTIRE & OUR INDUSTRY IMAGE

  • Is there any other industry in North America that cares less about the presentation of its employees to the customer and public than construction?
  • Is the appearance of our employee base deteriorating more rapidly than at any other time?
  • Does the image of our industry and the value of our brand suffer as a result?

A TIME FOR ACTION

No matter the profession or position, the higher one travels on the chain of earnings and respect, the more you can tell from their personal appearance. The more a company or organization seeks to build an image and brand, the more it reflects in the presentation of the employees. There can be no disconnect. High value brands and organizations do not compromise on this issue. The union construction industry does and it hurts us badly.

The perception of construction career employees, the reality of their appearance and its’ reflection on our brand has come to the point of necessary action. It is time for the union construction industry across the US and Canada to adopt mandatory uniform and dress code policies for all craftspeople.

Some union leaders and contractors understand this. At a recent presentation to the International Union of Heat and Frost Insulators, I threw down this same challenge. At the end of the speech, the union’s General President Jim Grogan held a floor vote with the delegates on requiring every apprentice in the nation to wear a uniform. It was approved. The first nationwide policy of its kind that I am aware of. Last week I saw what they have in mind. It is a professional appearance for a professional position. Carhartt light brown pants combined with a dark green long sleeve shirt. It has the union’s logo and “Energy Conservation Specialist” above the heart.

Other regional unions have taken similar steps. The UA in Chicago have had their apprentices wear a sharp blue short sleeve shirt that display their affiliation. At least one regional UBC requires every member to wear white overalls. Many companies also issue their company logo shirts; especially those working in service areas or high public contact jobs. But all these are exceptions to the rule.

These policies receive a lot of push back from the workers. Some positions probably don’t require it due to the short job-life of their clothes. But last year I spoke to tens of thousands of union apprentices. I saw thousands of hats on backwards or sideways. Hoodies pulled over heads indoors. Bandanas and bling. Ripped jackets and pants. Profane or filthy shirts. The percentage of guys I would describe as “squared away” would be around 35%. Why do we make such an exception for construction? Many blue collar professions do not let workers go to such individual extremes. These are young people representing our industry and our competitive value proposition. It’s time to add professional appearance as a MANDATORY part of our industry approach. Here are the three suggestions I have for transforming our industry into a more professional, respected and attractive destination for clients and talent;

  1. Every apprentice in the US and Canada has a uniform required as part of their program. They wear it for the entire apprenticeship. It brands the union as professional Also, in this way they self-identify as a professional. Just like cops, firemen, military, paramedics, and similar professionals. They look cool and professional and know it.
  2. Every journeyman has to meet some basic appearance standards. Each union and company can decide for themselves what works best. This is not for them, but for our clients. Our image and brand need to match our price. The secret is, the workers themselves will eventually find that they feel better about their jobs and careers when people see them as pros in action.
  3. Every contractor needs to pick up and invest where the unions leave off. Contractors communicate their professional expectations to every person in a company by the way they allow people to present themselves. Their logo on their employee tells the world what they stand for. Quality. Professionalism. Value. A casual industry is fine as long as it does not breed casual behaviors. Contractors must set standards and maintain them as part of the union construction brand.

SUMMARY

When I worked in the field I admit I liked getting dirty. I liked being a guy who took a shower after work rather than before. I have tattoos and wore what I wanted. But that was about my preferences. We need to start thinking about the challenges of differentiating ourselves from the competition. We need to start thinking about showing our industry image differently in one million union craft persons as we seek new talent. We need to transform the self identification of a “blue collar worker” to that of a knowledge based professional craftsperson. To recruit talent, upgrade our image and display professionalism to our clients, it is time for action.

10/13/2010

Reprinted from BCTD