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Futureproofing engineering recruitment

Posted by: Katherine Garratt 13 Jul 15 - 9:44AM  | Engineering
As featured in Process and Control magazine, Richard Heaton, Lead Consultant for Automation and Robotics explains how by focusing on core skill-sets, investing in training and adopting a flexible approach, businesses can ensure they have the right people in the right roles at the right time.

Automation and robotics recruitment and careers

Skills shortages have become a permanent feature of the automation and robotics sectors and are continuing to impact heavily on several areas of industry. Engineering technicians remain in particularly high demand and short supply: over half of those surveyed by the Engineering Employer Federation EEF* said they are currently struggling to recruit for skilled trade and technician positions. Whilst there is a huge focus on increasing the number of engineering graduates and apprentices among industry groups and within government strategy, many businesses have more immediate requirements.


Considering transferable skills
It may come as a surprise, given the challenges in the marketplace, that some employers aren’t adapting their recruitment strategy or making the most of the talent available. They may search for their utopian candidate, but in reality they rarely exist. There is consequently a need for employers to consider candidates with transferable skillsets. While most job specifications would include a long list that starts with ‘sector experience’ and includes several specialist skills and qualifications relevant to the given role, employers facing a talent shortfall need to reconsider which they deem as essential skills and which fall into the ‘nice to have’ category.

Often it can be quicker and more efficient for an employer to hire a technical specialist from a different industry and provide additional training in-house than to either source the utopian candidate or develop someone from scratch. The transferable, non-technical skills such as communication, organisation or problem solving are also important and shouldn’t be ignored. An engineer’s technical ability is only part of what makes a good engineer.


Horizon scanning
A long-term view of what a business requirements will be in the future also has an important role to play in guiding recruitment policy. Without a true picture of the strengths and weaknesses of a company’s talent pool and an awareness of how this could change over time, a business is in danger of recruiting for the wrong role and being too knee jerk in its approach. Replacing like for like isn’t always the right decision for the long-term needs of the business. Putting a process in place to audit the existing knowledge and skills base should always be the first step of the recruitment process.

By taking a step back and looking at the whole team against the future plans of the business, pathways can be created for existing staff to stay agile and flexible to the organisation’s needs. Involving staff in this process will help employees to stay motivated and engaged in the future direction of the company, which is also vital as competition for skills continues its relentless rise.


Offering a career path, not a job
The demand for highly skilled engineers is great news for candidates who have their pick of roles. However, with demand outstripping supply, employers must work harder than ever to capture their attention and send the right recruitment messages. Many candidates will also want to know the long-term prospects that a role offers. The best candidates may be put off by the slightest hint of short-term thinking from an employer. In developing a job description, one should paint a picture of the prospective career path and ensure this is a central part of the interview.


Selling your organisation
Engineering and manufacturing firms need to think about how they are perceived externally and what information they should share with prospective employees to convince them to join their organisation. This is especially important for SMEs who do not have the established employer brand of major global firms. Many candidates will look on the company website to assess whether an organisation can offer them the potential career path and development they are looking for and also if it is a strong and thriving business.


Thinking globally
Finally, the international nature of the engineering labour market presents an opportunity for UK employers. Those who haven’t already, should consider applying for a sponsor licence that will enable a company to recruit from outside the EEA in circumstances where there are no available candidates.


With an estimated shortfall of 55,000 engineers in the UK**, the industry is facing a crisis. Those working hard to reverse the trend of a declining talent pool by investing in training the talent of the future should be applauded. Meanwhile, those with existing, immediate needs need to adopt a more open-minded approach to training and recruitment, upskilling and evolving their existing teams, including looking outside of their sector for motivated candidates with transferable skills that will thrive with the right training and support.


*EEF, http://www.eef.org.uk/campaigning/news-blogs-and-publications/blogs/2014/dec/when-skills-shortages-are-scarce-employers-must-have-access-to-the-global-labour-market
**Engineering UK, http://www.engineeringuk.com/View/?con_id=490
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