How to hire, retain engineering talent

Hiring and retention: Tips on hiring and retaining top engineering talent follow, including how technology can improve automation recruiting, retention, using a skills database to engage employees, internships, and filling the skills gap.
January 16, 2014

From the Control Engineering article, “6 tips to hire, retain top engineering talent,” look for these qualities in engineering job candidates. Courtesy: National Forklift ExchangeMultiple articles on engineering hiring and retention were part of the Control Engineering January 2014 North American edition issue. Tips on hiring and retaining top engineering talent follow, including how technology can improve automation recruiting, retention, using a skills database to engage employees, internships, and filling the skills gap.

6 tips to hire, retain top engineering talent

According to the 2013, Manpower Talent Shortage Survey (by the Manpower Group), engineering is the second most difficult profile to fill, after skilled trades. Technology is advancing at a quick pace and, now more than ever, there is a need for skilled engineers. But recruiting the best talent available is not easy. Many countries are battling high unemployment rates, but hiring for engineering positions has not slowed down. The truth is, employers struggle to find suitable candidates for engineering positions, and the demand is growing. Some companies are even expecting to lose 60% of their engineering workforce to retirement in the next 10 years. 

So how do you get the best engineering talent on board? Here are a few things that good candidates look for in prospective employers and how you can tap into their aspirations to get them to work with you. Below are six traits you should look for in talent, questions to ask them, and how to retain top talent.

Using technology to improve automation recruiting, retention

Perhaps the greatest challenge in recruiting, hiring, and retaining engineering personnel is attracting qualified talent from a limited pool of candidates. Business leaders, recruiters, and hiring managers in the fields of manufacturing and automation must help ensure that the industry is promoting our brand of engineering so prospective talent see that careers in automation and manufacturing technology are rewarding and exciting.

Students should be introduced to industrial technology at an early age to help shape positive perceptions of the industry. This article was a Control Engineering Digital Edition Exclusive, January 2014. Read more by clicking through the headline at the top of this section.

Develop a skills database to engage employees in continual learning

Training is not an event, but is itself a process. Companies must continually work to develop talent over time, from one level to the next. While learning the technology and gaining hands-on experience are important, it’s also important to include leadership guidance in talent development programs. In addition to automation topics, training should include soft skills such as client interaction, conflict resolution, career advancement, and project management.

Developing automation talent requires more than a significant investment; it also requires commitment. One way to leverage both commitment and investment is to maintain records. For example, maintaining a skills database that indexes trainees by industry, process, platform knowledge, and competency can help companies identify the right engineers for each job or project, track skills development over time, and identify areas for potential cross training.

“If someone is skilled in one particular technology, it might make sense for him to go to the next level of that technology, or it might make more sense for him to shift educational focus to a similar technology, making himself more versatile,” said Chad Harper, director of technology at Maverick, an organization that has developed a process-focused program called Maverick University. “With our skills database, we can make those decisions more easily because all the information on each employee’s level is at our fingertips.”

Having a skills database can also enhance the performance review process and motivate employees to expand their overall knowledge base. Recently, human resource (HR) departments have begun to encourage employees to work closely with their managers throughout the year, and touch base regularly about their performance on recent projects and their progress toward their development goals. Go Online: Click through the linked headline at the top of this section to read more on talent development.

– Mike Gavin is director of performance excellence at Maverick Technologies.

Recruitment, internships introduce manufacturing’s value

The industry workforce shortage is in part due to the misperceptions associated with manufacturing facilities and manufacturing jobs in today’s society. Organizations need to work more closely with students and promote the benefits, work environment, work variety, and career opportunities available within the manufacturing industry. Through involvement in local schools, internships, or a leadership development program, students and current employees can grow and develop a career with the organization. Three points of advice follow.

1. Recruit a pool of talented individuals by engaging in partnerships with local schools to gain more insight into the student body and become more visible to students. Participate in various activities with local high schools and post-secondary education institutions—universities, community colleges, and tech schools. Participate in a variety of different school programs, including classroom presentations, speaking engagements, and local campus career fairs. Offer students on-site tours of facilities to help reverse some of the misconceptions surrounding the industry by providing real hands-on experience at a manufacturing plant.

2. Increase visibility with students with an internship program for the operations and engineering services areas of the organization. Encourage students to network and look for future opportunities for subsequent years.

3. Hire the best interns for a two-year leadership development program in which participants rotate positions every six months, expanding opportunities and learning experiences. At the end of the two-year program, support each participant in finding a role somewhere in the organization, in his or her individual area of interest.

Go Online: Click through the headline at the top of this section to read more on developing engineering students.

This article was a Control Engineering Digital Edition Exclusive, January 2014.

– Karen Lusher is human resources manager, operations and engineering services, Rockwell Automation.

Skills gaps in engineering youth? Ask yourself 5 questions

A common gripe that I hear from senior engineers is that today’s generation feels entitled, lacks critical thinking skills, and does not take the time necessary to perform tasks. How fair is it, then, to dismiss the millennial generation without taking a long, hard look in the mirror?

Before dismissing the next generation, ask yourself five important questions:

  1. Am I making myself available?
  2. Am I actively mentoring?
  3. Are we a distraction, sending a barrage of e-mail and requests, thus preventing others from concentrating?
  4. If the newer engineers have weaknesses, what are we doing to address them?
  5. Have I taken the time to try to see the world from their perspective?

In our office, some of the best and brightest engineers are younger than 30. However, many of them have had little opportunity to research or present technical topics in front of a group. This is a clear weakness and impacts their future ability to meet clients and give solid technical presentations.

Recognizing that we needed to give them opportunities to develop, we set up a junior engineers’ meeting every month. This forum is run by the junior engineers; senior engineers and managers are not allowed. A new person organizes the meeting each month, sets the agenda, and presents a technical topic. While certainly not perfect, this is one example of the type of action that can be taken to mitigate a known deficit. Click through the headline for about developing engineering resources.

Read more by clicking through the headline at the top of this section.

– Brian P. Martin is PDX electrical discipline manager at CH2M Hill. 

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