Winning against the recruitment crisis

Recruitment has always been high on the agenda as far as significant challenges for the civil construction industry and has regularly been a feature issue of the annual industry survey. Now, as most people are aware, we are genuinely in crisis mode with thousands of collective vacancies across civil contracting firms and with very limited resources to fill the jobs.

The Government’s policies are not working for anyone, and as we see valuable workers who are already in a struggle to remain in the country, let alone the overseas applicants who can’t get here, there appears to be absolutely no plan on how to change things.

Over the past six months I have heard the struggles of my clients to recruit staff and have fielded many requests for recruitment assistance. The usual means of sourcing staff such as job boards, company websites and LinkedIn are proving to be less and less effective as we are close to, if not already, at peak employment, and very few people are actively looking for work.

As predicted salary offers are increasing to tempt people to change jobs, companies are giving pay rises to encourage staff to stay, and overall labour costs are rising much quicker than normal.

A major issue for the civil contracting industry is that a lot of activities and resources devoted to staff cost a significant amount of money, and if you are competing for price-driven tenders, and working on fixed-price contracts, then any increase in the bottom line starts potentially squeezing margins that are already tight.

You want to be a good employer and pay everyone an attractive wage, but in doing so you can price yourself out of the market. Someone said to me recently “I wish that they would legislate time and a half back again so we can pay people for weekend overtime and stay competitive on a level playing field.”

Lots of factors are making hiring staff difficult, and one can only hope that the government will make some smart choices and do what needs to be done before things get worse. Our industry leaders are petitioning hard, the issue is in the media, but until change happens we will have to work with what we have got.

Filling vacancies has turned more than ever into a marketing exercise, where in order to get the attention of candidates, you need to be selling the hell out of the job and the company. Long gone are the days of just putting an advert in the paper. At present, you may be able to track down a number of potential candidates who have the skills for the role, but find that none of them are interested in moving.

So what’s a solution? Foremost there are some hygiene factors that are now essential for companies to give themselves the best opportunity to attract good candidates.

The workplace has a good culture – people enjoy turning up to work and spending time with their colleagues

Work is stimulating – achievable goals and interesting challenges on a regular basis;

Employees are valued for their contribution – they are openly rewarded and success is celebrated;

Remuneration packages are in line with the market – regularly measured and updated as necessary and benefits are tangible, useful and in line with the market;

Management takes time to understand each individual’s career plan and personal goals and finds opportunities to help them succeed;

The environment is inclusive – all people are welcome, negative or toxic cultures are shut down, bullying is non existent and staff feel supported in their roles

The recruitment process is easy – communication is regular and comprehensive, not bogged down in paperwork, expectations are met or exceeded and decisions are made quickly;

Flexibility – new to the list, but the ability to work flexible hours or in different locations is quickly now being entrenched as a must have in some form.

By having all these in place, you’ll lay a good platform for attracting new people to your organisation.

Then you can start the process of finding new candidates through advertising, marketing, word of mouth, talking to previous colleagues and contacting recruitment agencies.

The next tools, soft skills, will help you take a potential candidate you have identified to a signed employment contract. They are people skills, influencing skills, communication skills or social intelligence. The ability to listen, relate to, understand, and ultimately sell ideas to other people. Soft skills are now hugely important to convince someone that your opportunity is better than what they are currently doing.

If you are recruiting, or if you have someone recruiting for you, soft skills are critically important to the job, so that you can communicate effectively, listen to their issues, and empathise with their point of view.

Most recruiters usually have a good ability to talk effectively to potential recruits, understand what pain points they may have in their current role and then match them up to a suitable job opportunity. They also have the capability to build trust and provide certainty in decision-making, in what is quite a significant life-change for most people.

Therefore, getting better at soft skills can be of huge benefit to anyone involved in recruitment, as in this current market it is often the difference between getting a job offer accepted or not.

Author Daniel Pink argues in his book To Sell is Human that we are all in the sales business. Whether you are a lawyer, a teacher or a project manager, part of your work involves convincing people to make an exchange of what they have for what we have.

He writes that while some professional sales roles such as real estate agents, or recruiters are perceived as a bit slick and manipulative (lets face it, some are) this stereotype comes from an era when the seller had more information than the buyer.

However, we now have vast information at our fingertips, and in the case of our civil construction industry, most of us are not very far removed from each other, meaning it’s quite easy to get the inside word on whether a company is a good place to work or not.

Therefore anyone trying to get someone on board with their ideas, or try a new product, or take a new job has to use their soft skills to shift another’s ideas or thinking. Any investment people can make in getting better at these skills will be beneficial to their ability to recruit.

In summary, keep petitioning the powers that be to make a plan and get things moving, make sure your business is a legitimately good place to work, and then focus on marketing your business and the specific roles.

You’ll need to go over and above what you might have done in the past and work harder to bring new people on board.

But, by having great influencing skills you can help people make decisions to move and navigate, as best you can, the difficult staffing crisis

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