On Tuesday, the Cabinet finally approved plans for Heathrow’s long awaited expansion, in what Chris Grayling has described as a “historic moment”.
The decision still rests on the parliament vote taking place within the next 21 days, but with reports suggesting that between 70 – 75% of MP’s have shown support for the project, things are looking positive.
If the vote is a yes; then Heathrow will be given government approval to apply for a Development Consent Order (DCO) which will grant Heathrow the right to compulsory purchase the necessary land for expansion.
So how will a yes vote effect the demand for infrastructure talent? At this stage of a major project, where a detailed planning application process is underway, consultants will see the benefits, but it won’t yet impact contractors.
What they will be looking to do however, is to get key members of the expansion team secured. Not an easy job when politics and media comment become involved.
Heathrow aren’t alone in this challenge. All major projects have this issue at the outset, so what traits should major project client organisations look out for in potential candidates? This can be broken down in to two key sections; what technical skills they will need and what types of personalities should you be looking for.
Knowledge, skills and experience
1. Previous development experience
Major projects consist of three stages; development, procurement and delivery, with different people required through the lifecycle. The development stage, to quote Liam Neeson, requires a “particular set of skills” that differs from the delivery phase.
Candidates will be required to solve complex problems and deliver solutions to plans that will often have a series of conflicting priorities from different stakeholders, where there may be no perfect solution, and it is the optimal solution that is required. For example, the optimal operational solution might not meet environmental targets or could be significantly over budget.
To be able to succeed in a role during the development stage, candidates will have experience in this environment and manage the uncertainty effectively.
Even better, candidates will have seen a project through development, procurement and delivery; meaning they have practical experience of what works and what doesn’t across the entire process.
2. Previous major project experience
Knowledge of big infrastructure projects is essential for senior roles, to bring the “lessons learned” previously on other major projects. Projects that have either ended, or are well into delivery are good places to look for talent.
3. Knowledge of Complex Planning Processes
This isn’t going to be essential for all roles, but for certain roles in functions like; engineering, project management, environment and even commercial to an extent, it will be highly preferential if candidates have experience of DCO’s, TWA Orders or Hybrid Bills, and can contribute invaluable knowledge to the application.
1. Ability to deal with ambiguity
The early stages of any major project comes with a lot of uncertainty. While all stages of a project carry a certain level of ambiguity, at the development stage; there are no contracts, no formal plans, there’s not even an absolute guarantee that it will go ahead.
Someone who is easily frustrated by a lack of clarity and certainty, or annoyed by too many questions and not enough answers is not going to be suitable at this stage.
Similarly; roles, organisational structures and priorities are going to change throughout the project life-cycle. This means that candidates will need to be flexible enough to adapt to the evolving environment, even if it isn’t quite the same job that they originally took on.
3. Stakeholder management
Major infrastructure projects mean lots of interested parties and interfaces. For Heathrow, this could mean anything from airlines, other infrastructure owners, government to local communities. Candidates need to be capable of seeking input from all stakeholders, not just to gauge their input, but to actively work together to come up with the best solutions. This takes a certain level of emotional intelligence to build and manage worthwhile stakeholder relationships.
Attracting top level talent at the development stage of any major capital project is critical to the project’s success and isn’t something that should be compromised on. So how can a major project organisation recruiting for key talent ensure they get it right?
Here are our top tips for success:
1. PR – Make sure that you positively promote the benefits of working on the project across all possible media.
2. Networking & Events – Will boost awareness of the project and get people talking.
3. Look at where the talent is – What projects are coming to an end and where will you find the skills you need.
4. Compensate – These are challenging roles, to get the best, you need to be competitive in terms of remuneration package.
5. Go out to market in the right way – This often requires a balanced approach to attract staff at all levels; an internal recruitment function, recruitment agencies and an executive search firm.
Picking the right executive search consultancy for senior level roles with the relevant experience and network to find the best candidates is key. Make sure you have a well briefed internal recruitment team who have the right resources to recruit at other levels. And make good use of social media and the corporate website to actively promote opportunities.
Attracting top talent at any stage of a project comes with certain challenges and hurdles, to see how we can help you overcome these, click HERE to get in touch.