Why training, culture and outcomes are key to retaining engineering talent
The post-pandemic talent crisis continues to hit record highs. Between August and October 2021, there were 1,172,000 unfilled roles in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Unemployment stood at 4.1 per cent from September to November 2021, down by 0.4 per cent from the previous quarter, and 0.1 per cent higher than before the pandemic.
With the skills shortage biting particularly hard in the engineering and the high-technology sector, competition for talent is fierce, and many professionals including engineers and technical leaders are taking advantage of this to switch jobs for new opportunities. A recent survey found as many as 24 per cent of employees plan to leave their employers in the next few months.
Yet the engineering sector is key to Britain’s ambition to “build back better”, with roles in automotive, EV, aerospace, oil and gas, and renewables set to play a pivotal role in the economic recovery.
In this competitive atmosphere, with the Consumer Price Index at a 12-month rate of 5.4 per cent in December, companies may struggle to retain even loyal design engineers, developers and engineering management. Employee turnover which is one of the challenging issues in every business today creates insecurity for organisational workforce. The negative effect of turnover has been the focus of top management in almost every industry. It indicates that turnover is one of the most expensive and difficult workforce challenges facing organisations and surveys show that regular training is a key tool to surviving the talent drought – especially in the competitive high-tech and engineering sector.
The true impact of losing an employee
Losing talent has a massive cost, not just in terms of morale and time lost, but in financial terms. According to a study by Oxford Economics, employees who earn only £25,000 or more a year cost, on average, £30,614 in addition to the salary. That means losing four employees is likely to cost over £120,000.
Previous studies from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) where businesses admit to failing to hire the right person, with a poor hire at senior engineer and mid-manager level with a salary of £42,000+ can cost a business more than £132,000. The hidden costs include money wasted on training, lost productivity, and increased staff turnover.
Therefore, the cost of hiring and lost productivity while a role is unfilled or poorly hired are only a minority of this loss. Most of it comes from onboarding, training, and development, and from the additional loss of productivity while the newcomers gradually get up to speed.
This money could instead have been invested in the training and development of existing employees, who might then not have left. Employee education requires Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to build business success.
Sir Richard Branson is regularly quoted saying “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
Train to retain
More than almost any other category of employees, engineering professionals want to learn. According to SurveyMonkey, 86 per cent of employees say job training is important to them, 59 per cent say it would improve their performance on the job, and 51 per cent say it would improve their self-confidence.
These figures show that employees are not disillusioned, they value their work and are looking for continuous improvement in their occupation. Those numbers are even higher in the high-tech and engineering sector, where vocational qualifications mean employees can continually add new skills and competencies. Increasing advanced training and development is proven to increase loyalty. And even in engineering, training in soft skills can be as valuable as adding technical knowledge.
A Linked-In report found a staggering 94 per cent of employees would stay longer with a company that invested in their career development. Simply put, giving employees access to development means they may not need to look elsewhere to find it.
Staff development and retention is highly reliant on common understanding, and shared values. No employee can be expected to achieve their full potential as a lone wolf.
According to Forbes, a lack of vision and a future are listed as the two key reasons why top performers leave. An easily accessible, manageable, and meaningful personal development and training plan is often a key component to address this.
A positive culture
Even though you cannot see it, company culture is a real and tangible thing. It can be the maker or the breaker of a company and needs to be carefully nurtured from the very beginning.
Employee turnover is costly. Hiring based on shared values and cultural beliefs often leads to a winning formula. With 72 per cent of job seekers stating corporate culture affects their choice to work at a company, and 32 per cent of job leavers stating corporate culture was the problem. In other words, improved company culture, can dramatically improve both attraction and retention.
Culture fit is one of the most important aspects of retaining great employees above anything else, especially when the company is facing significant challenges as we have seen during COVID-19 times. But employee retention starts with first being able to clearly articulate what the organisational culture is. What are the aligned values, beliefs, behaviours, and experiences that make up the environment?
When it comes to the existing culture, it is the company that establishes its culture, not the employees. Culture is inextricably tied up with that of leadership. It goes without saying that leaders, directors, and managers should live these values if they want their culture to be taken seriously.
So why is culture fit so important for recruiting and retaining great talent? Hiring employees that do not fit well with the existing or desired company culture leads to poor work quality, decreased job satisfaction and a potentially toxic environment. This results in turnover which has high costs — both hard and soft.
Hiring employees that fit well with the culture and share a strong belief in the values will most likely flourish. This is important when the organisation is facing the inevitable changes, volatility, and ambiguity it will experience many times throughout its life cycle. A strong team with shared values is nimbler and can adapt more readily.
Professional outcomes are another major motivator for employees, 86 per cent of whom prefer prioritising outcome over output. Our tendency is to measure progress by output and not the outcome. We assume the more we get done the better and often fail to measure what works and what does not and adjust accordingly.
It is more about how employees align to the company’s vision, collaborate with other teams, and shift their focus on achieving the intended outcomes rather than output. Undoubtedly, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) create the perfect blueprint to articulate objectives and link them to measurable key results that unlock business success.
The difference between output and outcomes are:
Outputs indicate different projects, tasks, or even milestones. These are the actions that individuals take while achieving their goals. Output is so much different from measurable results. For example- Creating a new sales plan for the next quarter does not indicate that it will bring new leads.
Outcomes indicate quantifiable key results that can be measured on the successful accomplishment of desired objectives. They are not about how well you meet your goals but priorities the most critical goals.
This is the difference between working hard versus working smart and prioritising the urgent versus prioritising the important. Engineering is about solving problems, but not just solving them, doing it with constraints of time and resources, therefore in engineering you do not have to just find a solution to a problem but instead, a set of solutions and them decide which one is the most adequate for achieving the purpose that you want.
Engineers commonly use a unique mode of thinking based on seeing everything as a system. Engineers see structures that are not apparent to the layperson, they know how to design under constraints, and they understand trade-offs.
Thinking in systems means engineers can deconstruct (breaking down a larger system into its modules) and reconstruct (putting it back together). Engineering is not only about finding a solution to a problem but instead, a set of solutions and then deciding which one is the most adequate for achieving the purpose that you want
This means engineers and technical staff may be more motivated to work when they recognise the impact of their work on the organisation.
To sum up, flexibility and the way work is measured need to be improved to keep staff motivated. Prioritising how people feel will help to ensure they feel enthused about their work and loyal to an organisation.
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