NEWS / ACE News / Attracting and retaining the best talent within Engineering

ACE News

26 NOV 2019


Emerging Professionals report from their latest Future of Work event in Liverpool.

Rebecca King, Emerging Professionals North West, reports from Future of Work Panel Debate where the changes to technology and work changes, and what that means for the future of work, within the Engineering industry.

With five generations now making up our workforce DNA, there is much discussion and debate around the industry as to how businesses can, on the one hand remain agile and gain a competitive edge, but on the other how they can engage, develop and retain staff. This is especially true for the millennials and generation Zs who will become the future leaders of our industry.

Research has highlighted that these generations will, on average, move jobs every two years and have an average of 17 jobs during their lifetime. As a result, businesses are struggling to respond to this generational revolution and shift in attitudes in the workforce.

Attraction, development and retention was discussed by the panel which included Hamish Dunlop, WSP, Tom Bloom, GHD, Tom McGovern of Arup, Owen Smith from Curtins and experienced HR Director, Jane Milligan of Clancy Consulting.

All panellists agreed that at the grassroots, schools are key to the introduction of engineering to both students and parents and initial engagement should start as early as primary school. Another barrier to inclusivity and accessibility was seen as the varied spectrum of careers advice and support available in schools, something is currently lacking and disproportionate across the UK.

The panellists agreed that there has already been a shift in their roles and responsibilities. This was the case whether they were directly or indirectly engaging with digital delivery, or for specific job roles with programmers now either temporarily or permanently being employed to assist project delivery. Great examples provided by the panel included the use of drone surveys at GHD, use of virtual reality (VR) and Matterport 3D models at Curtins and the development of VR models and augmented reality (AR) apps at Arup.

But how did this start in these organisations?

Interestingly, only one of the panel said that their digital delivery approach was initiated by a senior manager, and that it tended to be through staff identifying opportunities. However, through staff led programmes, various barriers have become apparent, including managers not understanding development and billable time, and skills which have been self-taught in VR, AR and AI. It was also recognised that some SMEs don’t have the perceived resource or funding available to invest in innovation.  

While initiatives through bodies such as ACE provide access to innovation funding but this sharing of best practice across industry seemed to be the missing in the golden thread.

From a recruitment and development perspective the focus is firmly on personal skills such as communication, commercial ability and team management. Furthermore, HR departments are having to coach hiring managers to have a broader view on the transferable and core soft skills and not judge based on academic achievement alone. With our society diversifying more and more, are we creating the right interview environments to get the best out of candidates in creative spaces such as digital delivery and innovation?

So, onto the drivers for retention for emerging professionals.

Sustainability and environmental factors are a core ‘moralistic’ driver among emerging professionals. However, a keen sense of social and belonging were articulated by involvement in young professional committees, social events and clubs, as well as formal mentoring schemes which were all a vehicle to building relationships on a deeper level. Furthermore, online engagement and the use of social platforms were also seen as integral to joined up working in mutli-site companies.

What about skills? As creativity is seen as the core skill requirement moving towards 2030, the ability for diverse work and freedom to think outside the box has never been more important. It is also key to mention that from a business perspective, having a Senior person who champions digital was vital to driving cultural acceptance in the value of digital delivery moving forwards.

Emerging Professionals are dynamic, open to change and prepared to add value, however, it is crucial that the more senior managers embrace change and challenge their own assumptions and biases to understand the importance of technology in delivery. Reverse Mentoring can be an extremely powerful tool to facilitate this change and the ACE Emerging Professionals have conducted a successful industry pilot which has provided transformational outcomes.

We all know that change is inevitable, but it is how you plan and respond to change which will influence and shape how future proofed you and your workforce are for the digital revolution.