Dear Colleagues

  1. I was impressed to read Gary Perman’s piece (in the IEEE) on why strategies to find and retain employees – especially of engineers and technicians - do not work.

There is no doubt, despite the looming recession, that there is an enormous talent shortage in the engineering business – a tremendous and growing shortage of good engineers and technicians. With the rapid growth in technology and the need for highly specialized skills, the talent pool will steadily dry up. Already there are significant vacancies across manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software, in the semiconductor industry and in straightforward engineering. Companies tackle the problem in a variety of ways. Many companies have outsourced everything to
India/>/> and
China/>/>. I am of the opinion, however, that this does not work to benefit the company in the long term unless its high tech management and R&D are retained at HQ. Other companies simply poach and pay more. This strategy often fails too as the skilled engineers here may be working for reasons other than their passion for engineering. Some companies (such as Hewlett Packard) are “growing their own” by getting involved in universities and grabbing the best engineering graduates coming out. This is a great idea, but as with other methods of avoiding critical skill shortages - not the complete solution.

The result of all this is a focus on employee retention, to ensure that the wheels of industry keep turning. There is an enormous amount of information out there surrounding this issue. Some obvious retention solutions include; salary, promoting quickly, listening to your people, personal benefits (even massages - according to a Google source), flexibility in work hours and bonuses. Despite all this, however, employees still leave. So what can we do? As a result of his research in the recruitment business, Perman asserts that none of these strategies really work. Why? He feels that the main problem involves management failing to understand how critical this issue is and as a result failing to devote time to it. Management is rarely measured on their retention rates and keeping their teams intact. Instead they tend to be driven by short term financial goals as it is these that they are held accountable for. Many mistakenly feel that the HR department has the responsibility to devise retention strategies. Unfortunately this is an inadequate strategy, as those working in HR are not directly involved in the workplace. In essence the supervisor working with the team is the key to retention. When everyone - from the CEO to the lowest supervisor - takes on board the responsibility for retaining quality engineering professionals, retention will soar. The rewards for companies that do this will be significant in terms of revenue, profits and simply for “being a better place to work”.

  1. Some really thoughtful pieces on experiences with engineering mentors have come through as a result on my blog last week. I will summarise these for inclusion next week.

And as Pliny the Younger remarked two millennia ago, although he wasn’t thinking of recruiting and retaining engineering staff “An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit”.

Yours in engineering learning

Steve