Advice on meeting engineering recruiting goals

There is a major push by system integrators and other engineering firms to find qualified talent, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created a shift in many ways. Two experts offer advice on finding the right engineering talent.

By Chris Vavra June 30, 2022
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the world is still being felt and one of the biggest is how we work as a society. The idea of hybrid work or being completely remote was thought of as a fad or not sustainable before the pandemic. Now, it has been integrated into many company’s workflows. Some companies have made the remote or hybrid office permanent.

However, this sea change has created challenges for system integration firms in finding new talent. It was already a challenge with the skills gap and a lack of qualified personnel, but the new requirements have added new challenges. Navigating these new requests and demands can be a real headache.

Alan Carty, president and CEO of Automationtechies, a corporate headhunter, and Gary Miller, president of Miller Resource Group, offered insights in a Q&A session “Meeting your recruitment goals these days?” at the CSIA Executive Conference in Denver with CSIA CEO Jose Rivera moderating.

Advantages and disadvantages to the remote/hybrid work model

Miller admitted a few years ago it never occurred to him people could work from home. “How could you possibly work from home? After the pandemic, not only were some people maintaining, but they were doing way better,” he said.

Carty agreed, saying how when he started recruiting 20 years ago none of the integrators he worked with wanted people growing remote. While that hardline approach toward remote or hybrid work had softened, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown made it the norm rather than the exception. He said he shut down his office space a week into the pandemic because he didn’t know when it would end. The results, from his perspective, have been positive.

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to discover the tools to work remotely better or come up with the tools on our own,” he said. “I think we’re all better off, especially nowadays when you factor in gas prices and the time factor.”

This isn’t the case for everyone, of course, and even some engineering jobs must be performed on-site, but those are becoming fewer thanks to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and automation taking a larger role in facilities. While there’s more flexibility, it remains an ongoing process and challenge that requires active engagement from management.

“I don’t know anyone who says they’ve had it figured it out,” Carty said, referring to the hybrid/remote work model. “Only companies that might were the ones doing it before the pandemic. They have a baseline to work off. For the rest of us, we don’t know.”

Alan Carty (center), president and CEO of Automationtechies, and Gary Miller (right), president of Miller Resource Group, offered insights in a Q&A session “Meeting your recruitment goals these days?” at the CSIA Executive Conference in Denver with CSIA CEO Jose Rivera (left) moderating. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Alan Carty (center), president and CEO of Automationtechies, and Gary Miller (right), president of Miller Resource Group, offered insights in a Q&A session “Meeting your recruitment goals these days?” at the CSIA Executive Conference in Denver with CSIA CEO Jose Rivera (left) moderating. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Defining and redefining the company culture

Rivera mentioned company culture as something companies use as a reason for why people should go back into the office. Company culture, though, is a vague concept that means many things to many people. Many recognize it is important to a company’s overall wellbeing, but how important is it and is it vital?

Carty said, “With respect to culture, most of them in our businesses, historically, seem to develop organically. We don’t have that ability anymore when you’re remote or hybrid. Companies have to put more effort in designing and growing a culture. The organic growth won’t be there without someone steering or guiding it. Individual at the company is to create the activities and interactions to develop this company. Smaller companies don’t have that luxury.”

Miller said most employees want the same thing, which is to be acknowledge, appreciated and considered. “That can manifest in many different ways. Most things that are valuable are hard to measure. How strategic are you being?”

Miller admitted it’s a challenge he thinks about often and worries it might erode without a steady hand providing constant support. It’s a small, but important change that can have a significant impact on day-to-day operations if it’s being monitored or neglected.

Recruiting and interviewing best practices

System integrators are sometimes competing with the end users they work with for hiring talent. Many times, those end users have deeper pockets and can objectively offer more.

When asked what three things integrators should offer, Carty said, “The main thing is to have three things you can sell to a candidate in an interview. Why would you want to work here? When we interview a client, sometimes they can’t answer that question. You need to get it down solid.”

Miller uses a top-down approach with four pillars. “First, we talk about the industry. The people here in this room have the ability to provide great abundance. The power and influence in the room is incredible. Then we ask about your mission as an organization. Then leadership. How will they grow and flourish? Then we talk about the job.”

Rivera added that integrators, who can offer more flexibility than a large company can. For some of these large companies, engineers might be working on one or two things for large periods at a time with limited mobility and growth. An integrator, Rivera said, can highlight three or four projects an integrator will be working on and challenged.

Carty said one thing engineers shouldn’t be doing is, “Stop saying you’re doing cool projects. Everyone is doing cool projects.”

Interviewing, in its own way, has its own challenges. It’s not something learned overnight. Miller said, “It’s hard to be a good interview right away. It’s funny because the world is trying to digitize hiring but it’s an analog process, and it’s infinitely variable because each person is different.”

Carty agreed. “There’s a specific strategy for each individual, but make sure it’s very structured, and there’s a common theme.”

Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Chris Vavra
Author Bio: Chris Vavra is the web content manager for CFE Media.