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How To Attract and Retain Great Engineering Talent

The market for quality engineering candidates has tightened. With a shortage of good talent and an increase in the demands of construction and manufacturing - in particular within civil and geotechnical engineering - it can be hard to find and keep experienced and skilled workers.

Here in New Zealand, engineers are considered the most in-demand employee, according to a November 2013 skills shortage survey conducted by ManPower. And globally, engineers are ranked the second most difficult role to fill:


Credit: Manpower Group 2013 Talent Shortage Survey Research Results

Vying for the attention of good candidates can therefore be a challenge, but you don’t have to be a big name with broad exposure to attract and retain exceptional talent - here are important points to consider:

Revolutionise your recruitment process

Remember the days when you used to scrutinise classified ads in the daily newspaper to find a job? To be honest, I don’t. And many of your target candidates won’t either. Online job seeking sites of the digital era put an end to the need for print classified ads long ago. But with an overwhelm of information online, you now need to take things a little further if you want to get spotted.

Increasing the visibility of your company in the marketplace is critical to attracting talent. Networking and word-of-mouth referrals still have their place in engineering circles, and the value of picking up the phone cannot be underrated. However, the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for recruitment is increasing.

Using social media will not only demonstrate that your company is tech savvy and forward-thinking, but will also help widen your reach and expose your brand. It’s not just a matter of posting ads, but also leveraging content such as case studies and testimonials to demonstrate the scope and quality of your projects to attract candidates.


Credit: Kelly Services Attraction and Retention of Talent Survey

Think outside the box

Remember that the best talent is actually not usually looking through job ads, so you might need to get creative with a more unconventional recruitment campaign if you want to get their attention.

If you’re having trouble thinking outside the box, engage the services of a copywriter or advertising agency who can help you create a clever campaign that sets you apart from competitors.

Take Volkswagen, for example, who were short of skilled mechanics, so they sent out a whole lot of damaged vehicles to garages across Germany with a job advert fixed to the undercarriage of each car. Not only did it bring in talented workers, but also established their name as an innovative brand.

Similarly, Norwegian engineering company Hydro let a picture speak a thousand persuasive words with this image to tug at the nostalgic heart strings of engineers:

(We are looking for engineers who like to think big)

Roll out the red carpet

Of course not every company will have a budget and design team to devote to the creation of an eye-catching ad, but that doesn’t mean that a written advert can’t stand out instead.

If you want to write a job ad that top candidates can’t resist, remember to emphasise your company story, values and culture, not just the responsibilities of the role. Add some personality that reflects the workplace vibe. This is an advertisement, not a job description, and should be treated the same as any marketing campaign.

  • Think like a job hunter - what things are important to you in a role, and what would attract you to a particular company
  • Pick the job title carefully and optimise this for what your ideal candidate would be searching for online
  • Use your ad as a screening tool by including specific requirements
  • Make the recruitment process a little challenging by asking for the completion of task or real-world demonstration of skills as part of the application or interview
  • See some more tips from us here about hiring the best people for your team.

Using a recruitment agency will also help you narrow down specifics around the kind of candidate you’re looking for. Try and find one who focuses on recruiting for your industry. They’ll streamline the recruitment process by filtering unsuitable applicants and help you match up those with skills best suited for the role.

Make it human

Take advantage of your more personal approach to business as a smaller firm by emphasising the story behind the business.

This means putting more focus on the people who make the business what it is, what motivates you, what inspires you, and what values are important to you in your business. Everyone wants to work for a company that values its employees, and this unique story will be a selling point to candidates compared to the generally faceless brand of big corporates.

Get ‘em while they’re fresh

Naturally, the bigger, more well-known firms have the pull, brand exposure and the marketing budget to offer attractive graduate programs. As a smaller engineering firm, you shouldn’t automatically rule out the option of offering a graduate position, summer program or apprenticeship role to recruit fresh talent.

Position your firm to new graduates as an opportunity to learn a wider range of responsibilities, rather than just being a nameless number stuck in a single department of a large company. Explain that they will be exposed to more facets of the business, such as sales, quoting, business development, and taking ownership of projects. They receive a wealth of business acumen along with hands-on skills; you receive recognition as a firm that fosters the development of great engineering talent.

Take a look at how Deloitte in New Zealand has established a very strong following for its graduate program through a strong social strategy with Facebook. Despite being a large corporate company, they have managed to achieve a very personal brand image through their commitment to social interaction online.

Be a mentor

Ambitious high performers - the kind that you want to attract - are motivated by the prospect of success. They seek mentors or leaders who they believe will help them achieve their career goals. Promote your business as one with a supportive company culture that actively encourages growth and development under the guidance and leadership of industry experts. Top talent will also enjoy a challenge. Offer them the potential to take ownership of a new and exciting opportunity or project within the company that will motivate them to step up.

Take some tips from Forbes here about how to be a great mentor and implement them in your practice.

Irresistible offers

Attracting great talent requires a company culture that makes potential employees swoon, and leaves competitors coveting your approach. Figure out what your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is. To do this, ask yourself ‘why would a potential employee want to work here?’ It goes without saying that the more attractive you can make this, the more likely it is that you will attract top employees. And while compensation will obviously play a role in this, there are are other factors that complete the bigger appeal:

  • Environment - office location, facilities and company culture
  • Technology used in your business
  • Benefits and perks
  • Opportunities
  • Support through training, mentoring and education
  • Flexibility around hours and holidays

A study undertaken by recruitment agency, Kelly Services, showed that respondents felt that the most attractive incentives for staying in a job were salary increases (62%), performance bonuses (51%) and paid training (41%).

Credit: Kelly Services Attraction and Retention of Talent Survey

Strengthen your biggest asset

A top performing team is your business's biggest asset. After all, your success depends on an engaged and motivated workforce who are aligned with the values and vision of your firm. Invest in developing potential in your employees and support the professional advancement of your team through courses and training.

Use staff surveys to gather an understanding of your employees’ expectations and concerns and empower your team to speak openly within the organisation. Solicit ideas and foster an environment in which people feel confident to put forward opinions, improvements and new ways of doing things. Offer a referral bonus to your existing employees as an incentive to ask around their own network and help grow your business.

Be seen as a company who is not afraid to challenge the status quo, and one that recognises and rewards innovation, hard work and loyalty. A happy and engaged workforce is the best advertisement you have for attracting new talent!

Have you found it difficult to recruit great engineering talent? Does your engineering firm have a recruitment and retention strategy in place? Share your tips for success.

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Monica Shepherd
Monica is a marketing copywriter for WorkflowMax, creating content for the website, blogs and ebooks. Having run a copywriting business helping a wide range of businesses create stand-out marketing and website content, she has a thorough understanding of the challenges business owners face. By sharing this insight at WorkflowMax she can continue to follow her passion for helping small businesses punch above their weight.

Monica Shepherd