Contractor Recruitment

A greater focus on domestic talent

By Rob Sellars, managing consultant, Eighty 4 Recruiting.

Usually when I do a review of the previous year it can be challenging to remember the details of what’s happened, but this was not so much the case in 2020. The years definitely go quicker as I get older, but the last 12 months have been extraordinarily fast, as I’m sure they have been for most of you.

Rob Sellars, Eighty4 Recruitment

Recruitment is often the canary bird for the economy, as one of the first cut-backs businesses make in times of financial troubles is by not hiring new staff. The pandemic was no exception to this, with the recruitment industry being hit very hard globally back in March 2020. Many recruitment agencies folded overnight and, according to the JobAdder 2020 Global Recruitment Industry Report, there was a massive 61.7 percent drop in new job orders from employers in April 2020 on March figures.

However, through good management or luck, or both, our nation has managed to quickly rebound from potential crisis in most areas. Thankfully for the civil construction industry, our adaptability, resilience and a healthy pipeline of long-term funding for projects has helped us land in an enviable position.

Throughout the lockdown period I had clients that reacted swiftly to the changing landscape and were able to have systems set up that enabled not only their existing staff to carry on working from home, but were able to onboard new staff remotely by couriering out laptops, and setting them up with cloud-based access.

For me, this gave me the ability to carry on recruiting for these projects and hire a number of Kiwi engineers and construction professionals returning from overseas, as they did in significant numbers this year. The companies that carried on hiring staff were able to have the pick of the available candidates and bolster their workforce with some great talent.

A real bonus outcome from the challenges of 2020 has been the significant uptake in hiring managers getting on board with video interviewing. From having to participate through necessity, many people have found significant time, cost and quality benefits through embracing technology and using the likes of Zoom and MS Team to meet with prospective hires.

This is great for recruiters, as one of the biggest challenges we face is trying to coordinate hiring manager’s calendars and lock down meeting times.

The 2020 year was also characterised by some strategic hiring, with the catalyst being some large project wins. A number of senior leaders throughout the industry were tapped on the shoulder and moved companies, often to re-join former colleagues. As we know, the industry is small in New Zealand and one’s networks and relationships can be key to progressing your career.

As international travel has been minimised and immigration restrictions make it difficult to hire offshore, the industry now has to look internally for talent, rather than looking for staff offshore. For major projects, there is a real shortage of people here with the skills and experience to take on some of the more senior roles, and companies will have to put more resources than ever before into training and development of all levels, including leadership.

More investment into training and learning and development professionals

There was a critical shortage of candidates for these positions at the end of 2020, with a large number of firms around the country investing into training and identifying the need for growing their internal staff capability.

Companies in the industry in 2020 poured money into training schools, simulators for tunnelling, earthworks and drainage and general on-the-job skills training. It was just very challenging to staff them.

A re-organisation of Human Resource departments, with tighter performance outcomes on staff retention measures

Several larger companies downsized their internal recruitment staff numbers, partly because of the lockdowns. Some re-structured to give their HR/Recruitment teams broader roles that would enable them to partner better with their hiring managers and deliver more effective outcomes.

Staff retention has become even more vital as the pool of available candidates is not as big as it was prior to lockdown yet demand for people is as strong as it has ever been.

Companies ensuring a better ‘candidate experience’ for potential new recruits

This is in the ‘still-needs-work’ category, however as companies continue to lose out on candidates due to a poor hiring process, they are learning and improving. In the second half of 2020 it didn’t take long for people to realise how many Kiwi expats were returning and for the welcome mats to be rolled out.

Things are looking up here and, as we consider our position in the world, we should be experiencing some form of relief and optimism on where we are.

Moving into 2021, gratitude should also be at the forefront of both our personal, but also professional lives. This may sounds like a cliché or ‘fluff’, but it’s something that not only is the civil construction industry getting much better at, but recent studies have proven that by investing time into actively showing gratitude towards your staff can reap big rewards in terms of engagement and performance.

Lots of people have had a stressful 12 months and when people lose sight of the positive, and focus on the negative they are more likely to engage in poor or un-civil behaviour at work that can be detrimental to the company culture.

This in turn impacts your ability to recruit high-quality staff, so it is worth taking the time to identify ways in which you can embed this mindset into your business.

Try some of these suggestions.

Ensure your leaders are acting as role models

If your senior staff aren’t buying in to a culture of gratitude and positivity, then the employees won’t either. If leaders walk the talk, even if it feels a bit over-used or fluffy sometimes, you’ll build a better culture with increased productivity and a better ability to attract new hires.

Create time and space for recognition

Fishing trips, BBQs, Awards; lots of construction companies are really good at this and give their employees social proof that their work doesn’t got un-noticed. Use of LinkedIn and social media platforms to highlight success is on the increase by firms and gives visibility to prospective candidates as to how firms value their staff.

Allow your staff the opportunity to give back

Whether it is getting your staff to mentor interns or giving them time to go into their community to undertake volunteer work, by paying it forward your employees will increase their sense of gratitude.

This year consider the use of temporary staff, or freelancers even for more senior positions. If your budgets are tight or you are waiting for that next contract to be signed, by getting someone in for a few months to cover workload you aren’t having to deal with long-term fixed costs.

In the new WFH (work from home) way of working, you may find there are lots of jobs that can be done remotely. Take advantage of the options available to you to get a best for business/project result.

This year will likely be one of growth for many and, in recruitment terms, that means firms needing to hire more staff. In planning for the year ahead think about the overall strategy your firm will employ to find the people you need.

We are planning for an increase in hiring across our client base, with a good project pipeline and solid intentions by most companies we deal with. The big difference this year is the likely difficulties with getting people in from overseas, so we expect a lot more focus on identifying talent from within our industry.

How is your business placed to be in the best possible position in the market? Have you come through the pandemic relatively unscathed, or are there a few wounds that still need healing?

Remember that you need a solid foundation to build on and that foundation in a company is usually culture.

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