Five tips for hiring the right talent

Don’t lose the war for engineering talent. Staffing plans facilitate company growth.


From a human capital perspective, what have you and your firm done in preparation to meet your succession plans and growth goals for the year? The answer is that many engineering firms often leave any resource planning until the year is well under way, or ignore developing a detailed workforce/staffing plan altogether.

The outlook for the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection engineering industry is strong for 2016. The Dodge Data & Analytics outlook forecasts U.S. construction starts for 2016 rising 6% to $712 billion. The war for talent in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) space is returning to pre-recession levels.

Additionally, according to Morrissey Goodale's January Recruiting Flash, the industry added 37,100 new jobs from November 2014 to November 2015. Competition for talent will be intense this year, and your firm needs to prepare to meet that challenge head-on. Below are some best practices for workforce/staffing planning to better facilitate hiring for growth.

1. Early planning

The best practice for developing a staffing plan starts in Q4 of the prior year. Begin by focusing on backlog and project pursuits for the upcoming year. Analyze whether you have enough staff to cover existing backlog and whether staff rolling off current projects can cover projected demand. This is a great time to evaluate existing openings against business needs and priorities.

Get an early start on posting your jobs, given the demand for talent. Build up a pipeline of talent to hire when the time is right. Give yourself enough time to identify, hire, and onboard new employees to maximize revenues and project delivery. Remember, the labor market is going to be tighter than ever this year. The average time to fill a position in the industry is more than 50 days, with many hard-to-fill positions taking a lot longer.

2. Be specific

Estimating the number of hires needed for the year does not constitute a staffing plan. This does not provide enough detail for the hiring team to execute. Offices should do staffing planning on a project basis and be as specific as possible when detailing the plan.

Resource-planning challenges are abundant, given the project-based nature of our industry. There are a lot of uncontrollable variables when developing the plan. However, a lack of planning can lead to lost revenues, project delays, and no going projects due to a lack of resources.

Factors to cover include:

  • Title of the position
  • Discipline
  • Location
  • Hiring manager
  • Designated project
  • Timing
  • Hourly rate.

This information should be developed into a tracking document.

3. Turnover/contingency planning

It is not uncommon for the average firm in the industry to have 10% to 15% turnover per year. The staffing plan should also address this issue. Although hard to plan for, there are a number of things your team can do:

  • Look at your past turnover rates
  • Analyze whether employees may be at risk of leaving
  • Proactively recruit for employee departures.

As the talent war intensifies, look for turnover to increase in 2016. Don't be caught unprepared!

4. Key hiring

Key hiring for growth is a major component of any staffing plan. Adding key talent is the primary means of investing in growth. Identifying needs and coming up with a hiring plan will maximize your chances of success.

You will want to assess whether your project managers are overloaded, whether you have the right project leadership in place to help position you for project wins, and what hires you need to execute on your strategic plan.

Don’t lose the war for engineering talent. Staffing plans facilitate company growth. Courtesy: Morrissey Goodale

5. Follow-up

A staffing plan is a living document that changes throughout the year and, as such, needs to be continually reviewed and updated. As with any plan, things change and turn out differently than expected. For instance, projects may get delayed or canceled. Plans should be reviewed and updated monthly. The plan should be consolidated against current openings to make sure scarce hiring resources are being focused in the right areas.

Derwin Irvine is a principal consultant with Morrissey Goodale. He is a human resources consultant with more than 15 years of experience specializing in AEC talent. Morrissey Goodale is a Consulting-Specifying Engineer content partner.

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