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Engineering staff

Attracting and retaining the best talent

With civil and structural engineering candidates being at something of a shortage in the jobs market, it now appears that business needs to keep an eye on how they recruit and retain staff in this essential area of construction employment.

A slow down in construction projects did mean that there was an available pool of engineers across the board, but a return to house and office building projects, combined with the massive Olympic site project, means that engineers are once again at a premium.

Forthcoming cuts in public spending may be bad news for some projects, but they are likely to bring more public sector engineers to the jobs marketplace as in-house staff fall victim to redundancies and the need for savings. It is vital that employers make their posts attractive to the cream of these potential employees if they are to take advantage of this windfall of high quality candidates as the construction and large-scale civil engineering market picks up once again. Projects like CrossRail and other high-speed rail links still seem to feature in central Government plans, with road expansion schemes on the cards for the future as well.

“Employers can pick and choose from the public sector at the moment and there are some really good people there in civil engineering,” says Natalie Bird, Hays’ Regional Director for South Wales, who is an expert in the engineering recruitment market. “The residential market looks quite promising now and that is really starting to pick up again as well.”
With this sudden influx of potential employees being something of a finite resource, employers will need to make their posts stand out if they are to attract them as well as recent engineering graduates. This may mean overhauling how jobs are advertised, relying more on an online presence. It may also mean adopting some of the language that younger engineers may find attractive and exciting, or at least more attractive and exciting than that of your competitors in the market for the best employees.

“I think a lot is to do with the work they have and how sexy they make the work sound, which is important in attracting the younger generation,” says Natalie Bird. “Words like ‘sustainability’, ‘environmental impact’ and ‘carbon reduction’ are all attractive to graduates. Companies can be quite forward-thinking about this now.”

Civil engineers and structural engineers are often specialists, with a number of relevant qualifications behind them, though this does not mean that they will respond well to ploughing a narrow furrow once they are employed. Employers should aspire to keep their engineering staff engaged by having them work across as broad an area of work as is possible, with a mix of more attractive contracts alongside the more mundane-but-necessary roles.

Saving the best jobs for senior staff may help to keep your long-serving employees happy, but you may find younger, more mobile members of staff looking elsewhere for career advancement and job satisfaction. With the market being so flexible for employees, money often talks for more junior members of staff. However, signals that an employer is committed to retaining staff and is offering the potential for career advancement will be attractive to engineers looking at the long-term prospects in their profession.

“There are a lot of training and university courses, especially with software packages, that people can be sent on and that can show a commitment to hanging on to people from an employer,” says Natalie Bird.

This ‘keep them happy’ approach should not be underestimated by business in this area, where there is a shortage of both experienced staff and of graduates coming through the universities. With cuts in overall university places this year (and possibly for the foreseeable future) the problem of numbers will not be solved in the short-term in the engineering jobs market, so added extras and a more pro-active approach may become the norm for employers.

Those who stick with their traditional view of the engineering jobs market may find themselves left out in the cold when it comes to attracting and retaining the very best staff in civil and structural engineering. Salary remains important as a starting point, but the potential for job satisfaction is definitely what the best employers will be using to differentiate themselves. After all, a happy employee is certainly far less likely to be scanning the engineering jobs online than one who is dissatisfied in his or her job.

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