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Addressing Engineering’s Leadership Vacuum

Managers with strong leadership skills and a keen commercial mind are already hard enough to find, but when you add in the technical skills related to the engineering sector as another criteria, the candidate pool narrows even further.

These highly technically skilled leaders are often already in high-level roles, and are thus unattainable for most companies, making unearthing that kind of talent next to impossible.

The most obvious solution is to create leadership development pathways for people already within your organisation, by offering training and support to nurture those leadership skills. However, this has been an issue for decades and has still not been solved. This means that other means of procuring and developing these leaders, such as having a stronger graduate programme or recruiting from outside of engineering, need to be pursued.

Attracting Graduates

Many engineering firms, especially smaller ones, are finding it difficult to attract top talent straight out of university. This is largely due to many students going into other industries that are perceived as having better career options (such as IT and marketing). However, there are steps you can take to make your company more appealing to graduates, such as maintaining an effective graduate programme.

When marketing your graduate programme, it’s important to make sure you’re doing it the right way. Though campus recruitment is a great basis for any graduate programme, sending recruiters or management to universities to sell students on your company is time and resource heavy. If you’re a smaller firm, you may not be able to afford this, so you might have to attract these top students in a different way. Job boards are a good way to feature your jobs, but because of the amount of competition, using social media to feature your adverts for graduate positions (and showcase your company and its brand) can be an astute way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. More specialised platforms, such as GradConnection and Student Job Search or recruitment agencies, are also options to market your graduate programme more directly to graduates and bypass some of the competition on general job boards.

Creating Pathways to Leadership

Once you have your intake of graduates, you can’t just leave them to get on with it. One potential downside to having a graduate programme is that it does take the time of more senior members of staff to nurture it and act as mentors to the graduates within the scheme. However, this nurturing and mentorship is vital, especially when looking to create leaders. Although Engineering is an industry of specialist roles, it’s a good idea to expose your graduates to as many aspects of the business as you can, here is a good example from Shell. This way you build their general commercial skillset and give them a higher-level overview of the company, which is key when developing candidates for leadership and making the pathways to leadership positions within the company clear.

No matter what size company however, frequent (and formal) feedback is key to a successful graduate programme. Setting KPIs and other performance metrics is the best way to measure the success of each candidate and help them track to goals. If your graduate programme is successful, you will have created a talent pipeline that produces committed employees with a strong understanding of your company’s culture and early exposure to leadership responsibilities.

Looking to Other Industries

Building a talent pipeline for graduates is a great thing to put in place for future leaders, but it doesn’t solve immediate shortages. Though no solution short of finding that one-in-a-million candidate will offer an immediate fix, there are other options. Hiring from overseas is one alternative, and although this presents other issues when it comes to cultural fit, the recent influx in Australian candidates provides a fairly safe option to recruit skilled people on a short-term basis. For a long-term solution, expanding your search to candidates from other industries is a great way to increase your options.

If a candidate is in a leadership or management capacity in their current role, then it’s entirely possible they can carry these fundamental skills, like leadership and business acumen, over to a new industry. Project management, budgeting, time management, risk analysis and staff management are all important skills to look for, and if these are a part of a candidate’s current role then they could be successful moving into a leadership position in a new sector. As much as engineering, and most other industries for that matter, require candidates to have a high-level knowledge of the industry in order to succeed (especially in leadership positions), much of this knowledge can be trained. With this in mind, recruiting candidates from outside of your industry with the necessary leadership attributes to fill that skills gap can be highly successful, as they provide those capabilities immediately and usually have the capacity to learn the nuances of your industry fairly quickly.

Candidates: Take Action

For candidates already in the Engineering sector looking to move into a leadership role, it’s important to do things to drive your own career forward. If your company isn’t offering the kind of professional development that can lead to those leadership opportunities, then it’s important to seek it out yourself, either by searching for external learning options or looking for an employer that supports this development. Programmes such as PRINCE2 or PMP can be great, but don’t rule out looking at tertiary study options, like a diploma in Business Administration.

Though these may seem costly, many candidates who don’t develop those soft skills can often find themselves hitting a glass ceiling. The opportunities for candidates who do pursue this development are plentiful, as candidates with these capabilities are very much in demand. We’ve seen salaries for these leadership roles rise by nearly 50% over the past couple of years, as many companies intent on getting the right person, so the potential rewards are there if you are willing to put the work in.

Summary

With several factors contributing to a leadership vacuum in the Engineering sector, developing the leadership capabilities of your employees has never been important. This means companies need to create strong pathways for talent with leadership potential, support the development of these capabilities with their own employees, and think outside of the box when it comes to considering candidates. If you’re looking for top class candidates for these important leadership roles, or you’re looking to improve the level of candidate you attract, feel free to get in touch with us.

Mark Charles

Mark Charles | Senior Consultant Engineering, Supply Chain and Operations

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