Three ways to improve engineer retention

Companies looking to protect their top engineering talent from rivals should look to improve training, benefits and wages to make employees happier and more productive.

By Angie Keller September 2, 2019

The new industrial age is in full swing. Automation, robotics, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) are reshaping how businesses across nearly every industry operate. They’re helping organizations streamline processes, maximize productivity and reduce costs. With more businesses seeking the services of skilled engineers to help them keep pace with the fast rate of change, engineering opportunities are being created faster than employers can fill them.

A study by Deloitte concluded the current skills gap could leave 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028 in the manufacturing sector alone. With such a grim hiring outlook ahead, the answer to current talent challenges may not come from the external job market at all.

In such a tight talent market, retaining the workers companies do have can be as important as attracting new ones. To do so successfully, companies may need to update their approach to retention. The secret to retention today lies in providing employees with the benefits and tools they value most, but with employee expectations always changing, those areas can be a bit difficult to identify. To help get started, consider these three tips as ways to retain the best engineering talent.

1. Retrain to retain

Sixty-six percent of employers who responded to a McKinsey survey said addressing the skills gap was a top-ten priority, and nearly 30% put it in their top five — and retraining or upskilling existing workers emerged as a key component of their strategies for fighting it. Avoiding the tight talent market and retraining employees already on staff is the best way to confront the skills gap head-on and bring the workforce up to speed in all the areas where companies feel they may be lacking expertise.

At the same time, it also ensures companies don’t suffer even more vacancies by losing talent to competitors. As competition for talent accelerates, competing employers may become compelled to dangle lucrative offers in front of a company’s top performers to lure them away. But if a company has prioritized training and development and increased upskilling efforts, they’ll be better protected from outside competition.

When asked about what they value most in an employer, training and development has consistently come out on top for many workers today. When companies demonstrate dedication to their teams’ development and imbue them with new skills, they’ll be rewarded with better performance and greater loyalty going forward.

2. Broaden the spectrum of benefits offered

Competition for talent across all sectors has forced employers to think outside the box when it comes to the benefits and perks offered. If the current offering isn’t in line with competitors, companies run the risk of greater turnover.

Fifty-five percent of employee respondents to Randstad’s Benefits and Perks in the Workplace study said they’d left jobs in the past because they received better benefits elsewhere. Keeping benefits and perks packages up to date with the latest worker expectations can help attract and retain top performers. So what should companies be offering to keep their best engineers around?

Randstad research found, as a general rule, almost all (94%) employees want benefits and perks that meaningfully impact their quality of life. What that looks varies. Companies should survey their employees to discover the kind of benefits they value most.

Other incentives that came out on top were perks like:

  • Early Friday releases
  • Flexible, remote work options
  • On-site amenities like gyms, dry cleaning, and childcare
  • Unlimited vacation time.

3. Offer fair wages

Forty-four percent of respondents to a Randstad Employer Brand Research study said low compensation was the top reason they left their previous employer. For industries where demand for talent is especially high, the number could be even greater. After updating the benefits package, companies should set their sights on salary to make sure they’re doing all they can to retain engineers. Evaluate the cost of living in the area to make sure what’s being offered is reasonable. Companies also should study the local market to see what the current pay rates are for the positions they’re looking to protect to stay competitive.

Make retention a top priority

There’s no doubt the current engineering skills gap has made hiring difficult for employers — but it’s also created new opportunity. With a shortage of candidates available on the job market, shifting the focus inward and improving relations with existing talent can help companies hold on to the top performers long enough to weather the storm.

Companies also should institute upskilling programs to train workers in areas that may have been previously addressed with an outside hire. Get compensation and benefits in order to ensure all workers feel acknowledged and appreciated on the job. Companies that follow these steps will stand a greater chance of keeping them on board in the long term.

Angie Keller, senior vice president, Randstad Engineering. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


Keywords: engineers, employee retention, employee benefits

There is a major skills gap for engineers that companies are struggling to fill.

Companies looking to shore up the skills gap should focus on retaining the top talent they have.

Fair wages, better benefits and better training will make employees happier and more productive

Consider this

What has your company done to retain talent and what have the results been like?

Author Bio: Angie Keller is the Senior Vice President at Randstad Engineering, which specializes in the sourcing and placement of temporary and direct hire professionals in engineering, energy, utilities, petrochemical, manufacturing, information technology and other technologies industries. Angie’s role leads sales and tenured recruiting teams within Randstad Engineering.