Firms must ‘think outside the box’ to address shortages

Peace Recruitment - Chris Peace, managing director, 09/09/2015. Photography from:  Colin Hattersley Photography - - - 07974 957 388
Chris Peace. Photography from Colin Hattersley Photography

A leading recruiter for the construction sector has warned that some firms need to be more innovative in their recruitment strategy and adapt to the skills shortage the industry is engulfed in.

The issues contributing to these shortages, including an aging workforce and a lack of young people entering the industry, are well known. However, Chris Peace, managing director of Edinburgh-based Peace Recruitment, says firms need to start thinking “outside the box” and consider candidates from different backgrounds and with different levels of experience in order to fill vacancies.

He believes the industry is suffering from a lack of investment in graduates during the financial downturn. As a result, there is now a shortage of individuals in key sectors such as chartered surveying and engineering with two to five years’ worth of experience.

Chris told Project Scotland, “Clients are saying they want people at that level (but) the problem is they are fishing in such a small pond to get those individuals. They need to spread the net a little bit wider and take on people at different levels, including more graduates, and just support and develop less experienced team members for the next year or two. Their company will benefit longer term.

“We’re trying to go out to those clients and say ‘you can’t get (people who are) two to five years post-qualified and when we do manage to get a candidate like this on our books, we’ll often get them five or six job offers very quickly’.

“So one person will get offered a job, yes, and we’ll make our money and that’s great but then we disappoint five of our other clients. These levels of candidates are few and far between so a lot of clients seem to be not listening, burying their head in the sand a little bit or willing to wait on what they deem as the perfect person for them.”

Chris claims top candidates are also becoming increasingly difficult to hold on to. “Obviously if we get someone who is perfect, they will get a chance to interview them. But they’ve only got a ten, maybe twenty per cent, chance of them accepting their job and because of the supply and demand problems, they’ll probably have to overpay for that individual. And even if you do find the ideal candidate, there are a lot of counter-offers out there as companies simply can’t afford to lose skilled staff who are almost impossible to replace.

“Around 17% of people are accepting counter-offers and staying with their current employer because really all they wanted was a pay rise.”

Chris talked about the approach his company has been taking. “We’ve been trying to get clients to think outside the box to try and take on people from different backgrounds. I placed a project manager recently who actually had a degree in events management and I placed another graduate who had a degree in archeology but then had done a conversion course on a Masters in construction and project management.

“These individuals had the right personal attributes and our clients were willing to invest in them to upskill them on the technical side of the industry. Some of our clients are taking on school leavers and supporting them through university and then trying to tie them into contractual obligations at the other end. Clients are altering their employment contracts for graduates and day release employees to mitigate the financial risk to their company and to ensure they get a chance to claw back some of the cost incurred while supporting them through their education.

“Quite a lot of school leavers would like to have the option of earning a bit of money and studying at the same time so I think getting to these sixth years or fifth years would be really, really good.”

Peace Recruitment is involved in the Building My Skills programme, run by the Esh Group. This involves going into schools and giving practical advice to pupils about the construction industry and the skills required for different roles.

Chris said, “One thing I’m saying in my presentations to the schools is construction and engineering isn’t always somebody wearing a hard hat and a high vis.

“In construction/engineering you could be an accountant, you could be a lawyer, you could be a PA or a secretary, marketing, sales, business development.”