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SLC 2016: Recruiting and Retaining Young Safety Leaders

Sept. 21, 2016
Rich Baldwin of PCL Construction Services told SLC attendees about why recruiting and retaining young safety professionals is beneficial to the company.

PCL Construction Enterprises, headquartered in Denver, is tapping into college interns to build its reputation and safety talent pool.

Rich Baldwin, Health, Safety and Environment director for the company spoke to Safety Leadership Conference attendees about the importance of recruiting and retaining young talent.

“If you have some good safety people, you better darn take care of them because it’s hard to go to the open market and find someone,” Baldwin said.

While PCL craft supervisors, safety managers from other construction firms, or safety pros from government, general industry or insurance are always an option, Baldwin typically goes directly to colleges with ABET accredited safety programs to recruit interns with the aim of turning them into safety leaders for the company.

PCL typically hires about 11-14 interns across the U.S., adding to the 75 safety professionals the company employs. Of those interns, only about 15 percent are not offered a full-time position after graduation.

“Very rarely do we have an intern that we train and don’t give an offer,” he said. 

College interns display many positive attributes, he said. Strong book knowledge, potential for leadership, proven academic performance, energy and creativity make young talent stand out among those already in the industry. They also are not tainted by other industry or company experiences, he added.

However, lack of company knowledge and construction rigors, expecting advancement too quickly and inexperience in situational management can prove to be disadvantages to hiring directly from college.

Once an intern accepts an offer, a specialized development plan is created before they step on their assigned job site. They are given self-performed responsibilities and exposed to various projects throughout the program.

“Interns are amazed at the responsibility they are given,” Baldwin said.

While recruiting directly from college may prove to have its challenge and advantages, interns who go back and spread the positive aspects of being given responsibilities and benefits that typical internship experiences might not offer only enhances the company's reputation, he added.

Once the intern is hired on a full-time basis, the new safety professional receives an on-the-job mentor with which they have frequent contact. They receive short-term intensive monitoring, and, if all goes well, they receive periodic raises and additional responsibilities.

Encouraging and facilitating professional development in the form of degrees, certifications and continuing education is important to retaining safety professionals. In addition, providing stable job assignments so that employees are able to have a work-life balance generates a positive culture, he said.

“We need to show young people that there is a high potential they can be on larger projects as time goes by,” Baldwin said. “We owe it to them to continually improve their capabilities.”

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