During a previous career, Branka Minic worked in information technology development and management. Today, as the CEO of the Building Talent Foundation, she helps new job seekers get plugged in to lasting careers with home construction, HVAC and electrical contracting businesses. The Building Talent Foundation addresses the severe and persistent talent shortage across skilled trades by improving talent supply, training and retention.
“I love to put people to work and I love to put young people to work even more. That’s my passion,” she said, speaking from her office in Washington, DC, a few weeks after a well-received presentation at the 2023 Air Conditioning Contractors of America conference.
Minic’s mission with the Building Talent Foundation is to provide the best atmosphere and career exposure that will ensure a meaningful and information engagement, into what HVACR is all about. Minic and the BTF team apply best practices for recruitment and retention combined with effective relationships with major HVAC manufacturers and contracting businesses.
In a survey conducted by BTF and the Oxford Centre for Employee Engagement 2021 Homebuilding Workforce Engagement Study, construction workers stayed on the job for the following reasons:
- opportunities for career advancement
- feeling valued and respected and well-treatment by the boss
- enjoyment with working in the construction trades
- pay and benefits.
Key reasons given for leaving their jobs were:
- lack of opportunities for career advancement
- training and development
- pay and benefits
- not feeling valued or respected and poor treatment by the boss.
As a solution, BTF strives to provide opportunities for career advancement and develop positive supervisor-employee relationships.
Branka Minic was born in Serbia. Her family has worked in construction since 1908, when Branka’s great grandfather started a general contracting business there. Later, her father ran a heating, ventilation and ventilation business, which is now operated by a brother. She chose to follow a computer science and computer engineering path, “but all the time I was growing up, I heard from my father and later my brother that they could not find good people. And so today, there is still a big problem finding talent. People are not qualified, and they jump to another company for just a tiny bit more in wages.”
“I think that in this later part of my career, I am destined to be solving my father’s and my brother’s problem. I have a special place in my heart for HVAC. I remember my father telling us as children we should be thankful for Mr. Carrier, because he brings food to our table.”
"And so today, there is still a big problem finding talent. People are not qualified, and they jump to another company for just a tiny bit more in wages.” - Branca MinicThe Building Talent Foundation was founded in 2019 by the Leading Builders of America member companies, home builders with a definite
Minic appeared at the ACCA conference in order to tell the BTF story and invite other contractors to become employee partners. There is no charge to contractors, because BTF is supported by large home builders and manufacturers, including Carrier, Daikin and Resideo.
“Having all of those behind BTF has placed us in a position to be able to provide assistance in hiring qualified and diverse talent,” Minic said.One of BTF’s key assertions is that there is no clear career pathway for students who might have an interest in HVAC careers. Minic said this is
- a weak and not very diverse talent pipeline into the sector;
- a misalignment between what schools teach and what employers actually expect;
- a lack of engagement with and retention of talented people.
Combine that with what Minic described as the “4 Ds” – the misperception of trade careers as, “dirty, difficult, dangerous and dead-end” -- and it’s easy to see how the recruitment challenge becomes amplified.
“Maybe that’s how those jobs were a long time ago, but today, nursing is not any less dangerous or difficult than a job in construction. And a job in HVAC is definitely not a dead-end job. There are tremendous opportunities for these individuals both in terms of becoming a master at their craft and making a very good income, or becoming a business owner or joining a corporation and building a strong corporate career.”
“I have seen such sophistication in HVAC in some schools it’s amazing, and I don’t think young people and parents know about this.”
Minic said she does not believe school counselors are incentivized (emotionally, not financially) to get young people into the best careers that would provide them with the best overall employment outcomes. “Rather they are heavily pushed to counsel young people towards college. And on the other side it seems that these days there are so many other problems in our schools that counselors are not even getting time to provide enough career coaching and guidance to students, when they have to deal with bullying and gunshots and the other issues we have right now in schools.”
“In just the first quarter of 2023, we spoke to more than 24,000 people about careers in construction and trades,” said Minic.
Contractors with an interest in working with Building Talent Foundation are invited to visit jobstobuild.com. The platform has three missions:
1. Educate students and job-seekers about career paths.
2. Allow companies to post unlimited jobs and get connected with a rich talent pipeline of diverse candidates.
3. Provide students and job-seekers with career coaching and guidance from Engagement Managers.
“Once there, employers can tell us know the types of skills they require, and their timing, and we will gladly help them at no cost. We are also working with ACCA. They have their own career portal and we are working on integrating their career portal and jobstobuild.com, so that people don’t have to do double data entry. So that when we put their job on one of the platforms it automatically appears on the other. We are very proud of the relationship we have with ACCA.”
To serve those students who just don’t know what type of trade career they’re seeking, Minic said there are “try before you buy” offerings. One is Careers in Construction Colorado, a high school program that leads to internships. “These young people get experience before they graduate from high school. And then, the sky’s the limit. They can take a job or they can continue to a college, or both.
In California, the Building Industry Technology Academy is an excellent program that offers similar types of skills to young people before they come out of high school.
Minic opposes the commonly-held belief that the youngest career seeking generation – Generation Z – has a poor work ethic, is impatient, unwilling to follow rules and remain interested in an career over the long term.
“That’s too much of a blanket statement and also, it’s not that young people are to blame. Why wouldn’t we say that today’s managers don’t know how to engage and motivate Gen Z? Why should we just blame the young people for that?” said Minic.
“And as far as a work ethic, it’s on us the parents and counselors and manager in organizations to instill in them the values and qualities that we want them to have. I think we need to be better at mentoring these young people. Second, we need to take advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit of Generation Z. They’re brave and very, very creative. Why wouldn’t we create new types of jobs and mentoring and management practices so that we take the best our of them, instead of blaming them when something doesn’t work? Our workforce is seriously aging, and 40 percent are supposed to retire by 2031.
Minic said there must be new ways to motivate Generation Z, and get them excited about jobs in the trades.
“I think the fact that you can have your own business earlier than in other sectors can play a big role for us in attracting Gen Z to this sector.”
Minic recalled comments by a home building executive related to “redesigning” trade jobs, so that employers can adjust to the new generation, and have a workforce that reflects them, but also the consumers and buyers in this industry (who are also now trying to employ younger workers).
“Maybe they will participate while they’re going to school, as a side job. Maybe it will be something like a ‘gig’ in an ‘Uberized’ workforce, where people work in construction when they’re not doing other things that occupy their interest. There are many ways to address this problem, but the last of them would be to blame the young people.”