Culture and retention are key to construction sector’s labour challenges

Peace was honoured with a major accolade at the recent sijobs Recruitment Awards

A construction and property recruitment specialist has urged businesses to focus on culture and retention of staff to help alleviate rising labour challenges in the current ‘candidate-driven’ market.

Chris Peace, MD of award-winning Edinburgh-based Peace Recruitment, told Project Scotland that now is the time for some employers to consider increasing salaries to encourage key staff to stay, and also have a plan in place to attract the best talent.

However, he also had a word of warning for candidates demanding high salaries due to the current buoyant nature of the market, advising they need to be careful not to leave themselves exposed if the sector suddenly experiences a downturn.

“The first thing businesses need to do is retain current staff,” Chris explained. “They need to look at their workforce and at least have the status quo, which for some organisations is really simple: they just need to increase salaries.

“One of the main reasons people are leaving (jobs) is salary pressure and the increased cost of living. It’s time for companies to just dip their hand in their pocket a little bit deeper and pull out some extra cash or put extra bonuses in place to allow people to cover the cost-of-living increases.”

Chris did, however, stress the importance of ‘sustainable hiring’, citing one potential pitfall as bringing in someone on such a high salary that it knocks the wages of existing staff doing the same job out of kilter.

In terms of candidates, current labour shortages have created a situation where there are lots of options and flexible contract variables, such as blended working, condensed hours, and even three-day weekends. Strong negotiators can secure higher salaries and a range of benefits, though Chris is advising people to think long term.

He added, “A word to the wise would be to be careful what you wish for because there’s a lot of average candidates who are demanding high salaries and… employers are having to give in. My question to those individuals would be: ‘What’s going to happen if the market has a downturn?’, which my prediction is that it will in about six or eight months potentially, or certainly over the winter things will start to slow. Projects will get delayed and clients might need to tighten their belts a little bit.

“For average staff on high salaries working from home five days a week that are not adding real value, my concern would be where these individuals would find themselves in the market. They must make sure they’re not last in and first out.”

Chris said recruitment challenges within construction are currently being felt ‘across the board’ from architects to engineers to labourers. There are a range of factors driving this including foreign workers returning home following Brexit, pent-up demand to get projects re-started following the pandemic, and retirements in an ageing workforce. With many businesses streamlining processes and turning to technology, there’s also a massive challenge in up-skilling existing industry workers.

The competitive nature of the construction market is being replicated within the recruitment sector. Peace Recruitment recently won a major accolade at the s1jobs Recruitment Awards after winning the Best Recruitment Consultancy Scottish Operations category.

Chris hopes such achievements will help the business stand out and drive more construction and property candidates to its website.

“We were up against all disciplines; it wasn’t specifically construction and property,” he revealed. “There’s three parts to it. The first part is you need to have a certain amount of nominations before you make the cut. The second stage is providing evidence to demonstrate why you should be considered. Then the Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s local representative in Scotland reviews all applications and decides who he thinks is the best local operator.

“(Winning the award) shows everybody our hard work is paying off and that people are recognising us, which is great. It’s good for retention of my team, which is the most important thing. If I can retain them, they get to know their clients and candidates better, and we can serve our clients better.

“The knock-on effect is the promotion of our brand to other organisations and also differentiators in recruitment because ultimately we’re all fishing in the same pond. To be able to say to our candidates and clients that… we’ve been deemed the best in our area, gives us the chance to win more work which increases revenue and drives candidates towards our website, which makes us more likely to fill the jobs.”

Like many businesses, Peace reduced staff numbers during the pandemic amidst the uncertainty but has now sprung back and, at the time of interview, had a 23-strong team.

“We’ve really grown and taken time to streamline our processes and kick on,” Chris added. “The industry has come back a lot, but it’s not without its challenges. There are so many moving pieces that you need an experienced team to support you more than ever. (This award) is a local success story for the construction industry and gives us something to be proud of.”