Successfully identifying, hiring and retaining the right team members is a difficult process to navigate in any industry. According to a study by ManpowerGroup, talent shortages have increased significantly over the past decade with 69% of employers struggling to fill positions across all sectors.
Talent shortages are especially visible in technical industries like engineering and construction, which are now among the top 10 hardest to fill roles in the United States. Talent shortages remain even in regions with some of the top engineering programs in the nation, such as my home state of North Carolina with N.C. State, Duke and more producing qualified job candidates each year.
With their rigorous, highly technical courses and workload, engineering programs often struggle with student retention, an issue that academics and industry leaders alike continue to tackle. Furthermore, the number of graduates in the classical disciplines such as civil, mechanical and electrical engineering is not keeping up with demand, as students shift into growing frontiers like biomedical, computer and nanoengineering.
Exponential industrialization has also played a role in expanding the talent shortage among engineers. Cities across the country, especially those located in areas of rapid growth like the N.C. Research Triangle, are booming at unprecedented rates when it comes to population. With that growth comes an increased need for classical engineering disciplines that lend themselves to expanding city infrastructures.
As the need for engineering talent continues to increase, leaders of engineering firms must think creatively and be proactive in how they attract talent. Here are three strategies to identify, recruit and retain talent from the competitive engineering marketplace.
- Develop Your Firm’s Philosophy for Hiring
To build and grow a talented team, you must first develop a realistic philosophy that reflects your firm’s hiring goals. Many hiring managers focus on securing talent from the top engineering programs in their area. Like many programs across the country, my alma mater, N.C. State’s College of Engineering, typically receives more applications and must become more selective year-over-year. According to the N.C. State College of Engineering annual report for 2018-2019, total undergraduate enrollment in the program during this time was only 6,919 students with an approximately 50% acceptance rate for each incoming freshman class. That means there are thousands of top-tier students from across the country competing for entry and, unfortunately, there are not spots available for all of these qualified students. Rather than focusing on a few universities in our local market, we have found success expanding our recruitment to additional universities that are also developing strong talent pipelines.
While attending one of these top engineering schools is likely a solid indicator of a candidate’s intelligence and work ethic, prospective employees should be measured by more than how they look on paper. Instead, focus on candidates who demonstrate the capacity to learn, rather than those who hold a degree from a particular institution. Hiring managers should look for engineers who are not only technically qualified, but also exhibit traits and skills such as a strong work ethic, a collaborative mind and eagerness for professional development – traits that speak to a candidate’s willingness and ability to grow in a professional environment. In our hiring process we leverage behavioral assessments, like Activity Vector Analysis (AVA), which illuminate an individual’s strengths and motivations to determine if a candidate will be successful at our firm.
- Determine What Makes Your Company Unique
To appeal to top talent, you must differentiate your business from competitors to clearly communicate why your firm is the industry leader. If your goal is to attract unique, ambitious engineers who think outside the box to solve problems, make sure that your company story, policies, incentives and team culture are irresistible compared to the rest. What benefits does your company offer that excite your team? Are you providing excellent healthcare insurance, flexibility with scheduling, offering unlimited paid time off or contributing to retirement benefits?
Above all, employees want to feel like they belong in a workplace culture that prioritizes employee inclusion, safety, responsibility, collaboration, growth and recognition. Show prospective team members that your firm nurtures these employee pillars with a strong history of valuing input, providing space for creative thought, trusting team members to take on more responsibility and rewarding high-achievers with opportunities for career advancement. Empower employees to be active in the firm’s growth, encouraging them to take the lead in identifying ways to add value to their projects, clients and career.
- Invest in Training Your Team
Demonstrate that you are dedicated to your company’s growth through your team’s professional development. Once employees see that their company is fully invested in their careers, team performance and loyalty typically skyrocket. According to a Gallup report, an impressive 87% of millennials prioritize professional growth and development opportunities compared to all other benefits, with 69% of non-millennials agreeing. To show that your firm prioritizes professional development, encourage team members to own accountability for earning additional certifications, recommending industry events where they can learn or share their expertise, and more.
Before investing in an employee’s professional growth, it can be natural to fear that the employee will use learned experience to apply for other opportunities at competitor firms. Instead, investment in professional development can lead to employees feeling more effective and valued at their current company, causing them to be less likely swayed by potentially higher salary numbers at competitor firms. Studies show that over half of the workforce views a strong, stable company culture as being more important than salary. In my experience hiring engineers over the past 25 years, more than 75% accepted the job offer before salary was even negotiated because they understood their opportunities for growth and how they could create impact at the firm.
Top-tier engineers want to be a part of firms with positive, growing environments where their contributions are important, valued and acknowledged. A full assessment of your company’s hiring philosophy, employment differentiators, and contributions to professional growth is key to identifying, hiring and retaining the best talent for your engineering firm.
About Tommy Faulkner
Tommy Faulkner, CEO of JDSfaulkner, has been a renowned innovator in the engineering, design and consulting industry for over 25 years. His expertise is multidisciplinary, completing licensing as a professional engineer, general contractor, Master of Special Inspections and realtor. Throughout his career, Tommy has founded and led acclaimed engineering firms, with a focus on supporting growth and development of industry talent.