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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 3 years ago

Rough trade: Firm's electricians show off their skills

An electrical contractor tackles its employee retention problem with a unique competition.

The shortage of skilled workers in construction trades is a thorn in the side of many developers in Florida. But the companies that help guide new developments out of the ground also suffer, as fierce competition for talent results in workers being lured away by promises of higher salaries and better benefits.

That has prompted firms such as St. Petersburg-based Power Design, one of the nation’s largest electrical contractors, to get creative with recruitment and retention programs. The firm has some 1,500 employees, and did $469 million in sales last year. 

A Power Design electrician competes in the firm's Tough Rougher skills contest. Courtesy photo.

Last week, Power Design brought in eight teams of electricians from its field offices around the country to participate in a “Tough Rougher” competition. The teams — made up of three workers and one supervisor — competed against each other to see which team could most quickly and effectively “rough in” the electrical wiring for units at an apartment building development at 801 Central Ave. in downtown St. Pete. They were judged on safety practices, quality standards and speed.

“Employee retention is a big part of our strategy,” Power Design marketing manager Rachel Podos tells Coffee Talk. “There’s such a shortage of labor in the field that we can’t afford to lose anyone, and competitors can come in with higher salaries, so we want to go above and beyond for the guys we already have on the team.”

Podos says the Tough Rougher competition was live-streamed to everyone in the company, and the event was filmed for a recruitment video. “Its purpose was twofold: retention and attracting new talent.”

A third purpose: bragging rights for the winners, in a team from Power Design’s mid-Atlantic region that triumphed in the competition. They won a $25,000 prize for their winning effort, which saw them rough in one of the apartment building’s units in just under four hours with minimal quality-control issues. Podos says the team members agreed to split their winnings equally. The company also flew the electricians back to their home base in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area on a private jet.

“It was a good little bonus for them,” says Podos. “We really tried to make them feel like champions.”


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