When I started Newsom Consulting in 2010 the economic downturn had caused a contraction of the infrastructure industry which led to a very employer-driven recruitment market.
Many companies had frozen salaries, bonuses were rare, while some companies had even imposed short-term pay cuts. Very few resignations were defended with counter-offers or serious persuasion.
Fast forward six years and things look very different. Output is up, investment is up, a raft of infrastructure projects are in the pipeline and the employment market is a different place. Estimates suggest the UK infrastructure sector is set to grow by more than 50% by 2019. There are more roles than people qualified to fill them, and the onus is on the company to sell its opportunity to the spoilt-for-choice candidate.
It’s a major change, one that I don’t believe enough infrastructure and transport companies have adjusted to. Especially in large firms where the recruitment is sometimes delegated to individuals naturally removed from the cut and thrust of the operational business, there is not enough awareness of quite how competitive recruitment now is.
It’s tough for infrastructure companies to recruit good staff – and not just for blue collar operatives but for senior leaders that can make a huge difference to the success of an infrastructure project or operation.
Before I give you my tips to thriving in this climate, here are just some of the ways infrastructure workloads are set to expand:
- Heathrow Airport received the government’s backing in October for its project to build a third runway – and immediately announced it was starting work to further develop the project.
- Contracts for the enabling works for the first phase of High Speed 2 have been awarded, with stage one civils contracts due for award in early 2017.
- Contracts were finally signed for the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in late September, with EDF saying the deals relaunched nuclear construction in this country. This has also helped advance the likelihood of the Horizon nuclear schemes happening.
- Sirius Minerals in October announced a stage one financing agreement for its c£2bn York Potash project with investors.
- Five routes were shortlisted for the Trans-Pennine road tunnel scheme in August and the Trans-Pennine West of Leeds rail programme is due to be awarded autumn 2017.
- The chancellor is expected to announce increased investment in road schemes in the autumn statement on November 23rd.
There are myriad other projects taking shape up and down the country as the infrastructure industry gets backing from investors and politicians, following a short hiatus around the time of the EU referendum.
At Newsom Consulting we have never been busier. Infrastructure companies are building up their teams to win and deliver this bounty of work. However, there are a finite number of good people to go round, and in my opinion the market is only going to get tighter in 2017 and 2018.
Here are my top tips for thriving in a candidate-driven recruitment frenzy:
1. Plan ahead
Considering how long it takes to bid for and win a major construction project, it is amazing how many companies call us in a minor panic because they haven’t got a Project Director, Construction Director or Head of Commercial in place for an imminent start of a new project.
Five years ago it would have been easier to find the right person at short notice, but now to get the best people for the job you need to think ahead to avoid making a distressed purchase.
The ideal senior candidate may have a six-month notice period and it could take you two months to identify and interview them to begin with. Build this in to your timetable at the start of a project.
2. Keep salaries under constant review
This is not just critical for successful recruitment, but for retention too – and keeping good people is a vital part of building a strong team.
The market is changing fast and generous annual pay rises are back with a bang so make sure you collect real data about salary levels in the market.
This will prevent your existing stars getting itchy feet as well as helping you to avoid wasting time interviewing people who aren’t right for the role because you set the remuneration too low.
We often provide our clients with salary benchmarking before the start of a search, which helps to establish realistic targets from the outset.
3. Promote the projects and the company
Do what you can to get the projects you are bidding or working on seen in a positive light in the media and the broader industry.
If you can get across the attractions of a scheme then you are one step closer to persuading people to consider a job on it when one becomes available. The same goes for promoting your company in general terms. Build a strong employer brand and a culture that candidates can buy in to.
We often hear from candidates, when asked what has attracted them to the role, that they were impressed by the detailed job descriptions and candidate brief’s we produce with our clients. A confident report detailing the company’s background’s and values as well as what is expected of the person who will be joining the company can speak volumes to someone considering making a change.
4. Be aware of people’s alternatives
People often think candidates are queuing up to join them but the reality at the moment is that there are a wide range of exciting, high profile infrastructure projects in all parts of the UK and many overseas in warmer climes.
People who have had to live away during the week in order to find work in the past, may well be looking at working closer to home. Europeans might be put off by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Those from further afield might not see the current exchange rate as good enough to justify a 3-5 year stint on a major project in the UK.
Appreciate your position in the market and fight hard for good project leaders.
5. Move quickly
Don’t spend time and effort on a recruitment exercise just to get waylaid and leave strong candidates hanging around for a final interview or formal job offer. They will more likely than not get a better offer from elsewhere.
The industry is buzzing with recruitment. Be decisive; prioritise and organise the process; and make sure you keep candidates engaged.
Finally, with so many options available, fewer people are needing to actively look for jobs. It can pay to hire an executive search firm (such as our good selves!) to use all its experience, contacts and industry knowledge to target the right people in the right way to effectively fill your vacancy.
To find out more about how we can help you and your business compete for the best infrastructure talent please get in touch with me HERE to discuss further.