Branch is one of the largest construction companies in Virginia, and their 58,000+ sq. foot corporate headquarters can be found on Peters Creek Rd. in the city of Roanoke. The employee-owned company has expanded its presence across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, with a large portion of its 1,100 employees living and working in the Roanoke Region (as well as Virginia and North Carolina). You can learn more about the history of Branch here.
We spoke with a great group of folks who manage talent attraction and human relations across all their business units, which include Branch Civil, Branch Builds, and Hopkins|Lacy – and got some great insight into why their company is leading the way for the Roanoke Region.
Branch Group’s Recruitment Strategy
Branch is not unique when facing challenges in the labor market. In addition to the unprecedented, historically high number of job openings exacerbated by COVID-19, the construction industry is battling an increased shortage of skilled workers. Closing the gap between the large number of experienced workers retiring from the industry and the small number of those entering will be a challenge for the next decade. As an employee-owned company, it’s critical that we are always striving to attract and keep the best employees we can since our success hinges on their talents.
One of the foundational elements of our strategy is consistent communication and workforce planning with our business unit leaders (Branch has three separate entities). This allows us to understand current and future staffing needs.
These needs can change suddenly due to project schedules, and we often have to recruit high numbers quickly. By having regular meetings, tracking current and predicted job openings, and sharing intel, we can be proactive instead of reactive.
It’s proved crucial to stay on top of technology trends and incorporate new platforms efficiently for both recruiters and hiring managers. In 2022, we introduced a new employee referral program and the number of referrals has increased dramatically. The addition of a text messaging system, integrated with our recruiting software, improved our ability to communicate with candidates who work in the field and are on the go. We also improved our reporting and added analytical data to help identify gaps in our pipeline, the jobs, and regions that are most popular or have the largest candidates drop off and inform us about the candidate’s journey from awareness to hire.
Talent also has a strong partnership with the internal marketing department. Sharing this data with marketing allows them to create better campaigns, strategically buy media, and pivot quickly when needed. They can effectively communicate our company’s employee value proposition (EVP) in creative ways to break through the noise of our competitors — by focusing on the culture that employee ownership creates, the accountability and opportunities that exist because of it, and the rewards it reaps, we’re able to attract the best talent.
Tapping Into Diverse or Unexpected Talent Pools
Comprising members of Human Resources and stakeholders within the business units, our Workforce Development committee has successfully identified the best-untapped talent pools and groups that have diverse candidates with transferrable skills. Through these programs and partnerships with various agencies, we are seeing more candidates and a positive impact on our diversity numbers. It’s critical that HR works on identifying these groups with employees within the organization since they will know where their peers are. As an organization, you cannot always depend on your leaders to know where to look.
What Could the Roanoke Region Be Doing to Attract More Young Talent?
To attract young talent, it is imperative that the region offer affordable housing options to new graduates (especially those saddled with student loans) and young adults just moving out on their own. This may call for fewer restrictions to building apartments or incentivizing the building of smaller, single-family homes.
The region does a great job of highlighting our amazing outdoor lifestyle and vibrant downtown, both of which are attractive to young adults. We’ve also noticed neighboring regions introducing “non-alcoholic bars” which is a trend that our region is lacking.
Businesses and organizations need to build stronger relationships with the many colleges and universities in the region. We want recent graduates to stay here, instead of transplanting to larger, more expensive cities or moving back to their hometowns. They may not even consider us an option if we don’t show them what we offer.
Branch Collaborations with Regional Educational Institutions
Building relationships is one of Branch’s core values, so collaboration with local educational institutions is a top priority. We consistently evaluate our success with students in their various programs to optimize the relationship for both parties. Sponsoring and attending hiring events, speaking at colleges and classes, mentoring students, offering internships and career exploration opportunities, and working with their career centers are just a few ways that we engage.
It should be noted that we have found the most success in partnering with our local high schools. Interest in STEM careers like construction and engineering starts way before college! We love to interact with the students at local vocational and high schools.
We provide interviewing coaching, soft-skill training, career exploration days, and career fairs. We have a reputable 25-year-old mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) student apprenticeship programs and newer heavy equipment and carpentry apprenticeships that successfully recruit students.
Alongside Roanoke City schools, we’ve created an externship for a mechanical engineering student who will shadow our Building Information Management (BIM) team and explore real-world applications. In July, we offered our first Career Exploration Day, which allowed students ages 16-18 to job shadow each department at Branch, including non-construction-related careers. These experiences will help students get an idea of the career paths they can explore upon graduation.
Successful Mentorship and Internship Programs Nurture Young Talent and Prepare Them for Employment
Branch has hosted summer interns for decades. During the nine-week internships, we offer three career pathways in three-week rotations. This format provides hands-on experiences to help young talent determine their area of focus upon graduation. To aid development off the job site, we created intern-specific webinars about employee benefits, how retirement accounts work, resume tips, and interview skills (just to name a few).
Our employees host social events for the interns at Top Golf or to go axe-throwing! The opportunity to network with seasoned professionals and fellow interns helps build culture and relationships. To become their employer-of-choice upon graduation, we invite those who are eligible back for another summer or offer them a full-time position. If you’re interested in an internship at Branch Group for 2024, meet with them at the October 4 Intern & Early Career Expo at the Taubman Museum in downtown Roanoke.
What Workforce and Talent Attraction Tools in the Roanoke Region Would You Recommend to Another Employer?
Your business doesn’t have to solve every challenge on its own. Use your workforce development agencies! They offer funding for training, career counselors who integrate candidates into places of employment, and potential financial incentives for companies who hire from disenfranchised populations. Overcome barriers to employment by working with agencies that provide wrap-around services; for example, ride-sharing for employees who don’t have reliable transportation, or financial benefits for employees to maintain reliable childcare. Talk to your vendors, clients, and even competitors to see how they are solving their workforce challenges – you may discover new resources or find a partner.
Economic development agencies, such as the Roanoke Regional Partnership, are invested in retaining talent after graduation from local colleges and universities and encouraging those who grew up here, but settled elsewhere after graduation, to return to the region. Employers can do this as well by highlighting the quality of life that the region offers while extending an offer for employment. Use the marketing materials they provide to persuade your candidates that Roanoke is the place to be.
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