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APPEARANCE, 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.
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?
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;
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.
PLANNING AS A TOOL FOR CHANGE
Every construction client I have is facing profound change right now. Contractors, Associations, and Unions are all trying to rapidly adapt to market and competition challenges. As they do this I ask them one simply question. Do you have a written strategic plan?
Most respond with some sort of excuse because they simply don’t want to admit that they don’t have a plan. Or if they do it is the one they did last year or three years ago and “they haven’t have time to get to it”. If there was ever a time for an organization to be engaged in strategic planning it is now. Enacting change without a strategic plan is 95% reaction. Random responses to market challenges might have been good enough for the past but not today.
Three key tips for strategic planning in this market:
This last year more organizations than ever before utilized Breslin Strategies for strategic planning. This is a trend for progressive and smart leaders. No matter if you use us, or someone else, be sure to evaluate the value of this time investment. Waiting for things to get better is not a plan. Hoping and status quo is not a plan. Planning is tough for leaders more interested in action, but to avoid the “Ready Fire Aim” factor strategic planning is the best time you might ever spend for your organization.
More on Mark's work and profile is available at www.breslin.biz.
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