Planning large-scale infrastructure projects: Overcoming recruitment challenges

Insights

This is my second blog post exploring some of the challenges inherent in planning large infrastructure projects. In my last post, I discussed issues and risks in the delivery of public-private partnerships (P3s), particularly as some recent large US infrastructure projects delivered through the P3 model had either failed or were in difficulty.

Following on from that, I wanted to share some of the common recruitment challenges that we are currently seeing construction and infrastructure sector companies face, particularly those active in the US market and other high growth regions.

Benefits and challenges of long term project planning

Ambitious companies who want to grow and invest for the future are understandably attracted to large infrastructure projects. Contracts that require companies to deliver project work over a number of years offer stability in terms of revenue and cash flow. They can also provide companies with added security and reassurance when making local investment decisions, that they will see value for money in those investments over the longer term.

However, as I mentioned in my last post, assessing the long-term financial viability of large-scale infrastructure projects at the outset is a huge undertaking. Staffing costs can comprise a large proportion of the budget, and it isn’t uncommon for this to be underestimated – often by a significant amount.

The key thing is to understand everything that might impact and influence your HR planning and budget for recruitment and on-going staff costs.

Availability of talent

If a company is investing in a new region or looking to scale its operations quickly, the availability of talent is a key consideration.

Our industry is suffering globally with talent shortages, but talent availability issues are particularly acute in some regions.

Why is this? Obviously, the recession has to shoulder some of the blame. A lot of building projects were put on hold during the recession and this has had a number of impacts. Firstly, the number of people entering construction, engineering and manufacturing professions has dropped. As a result, there are now fewer graduates coming through and filling the entry-level positions. Secondly, when many of those with years of professional experience saw their work dry up, these skilled people with ten, twenty or more years under their belt had to find another route for their careers. Some moved; others retrained. More still left the industry for good (see later point on tech industry “talent grabs”).

We are now seeing the impact of that haemorrhaging of skilled talent, as it has led to skills shortages for many roles at various experience and seniority levels across the industry.

Higher salaries and better packages

When the talent pool is smaller, companies have to be open to increased remuneration for employees and contractors, as well as improving their overall benefits packages in order to attract and retain top talent. In a candidate’s market, the best people are in a position to pick and choose.

US construction wages topped $30 an hour this year; while here in the UK, construction salaries are up 9%, boosted by skills shortages exacerbated by Brexit, according to data published on theconstructionindex.co.uk. This pattern plays out right up the scale into the most senior leadership positions.

There is certainly an argument that the wage inflation we are seeing has gone too far, and we may yet see a “boom / bust” pattern emerge. But for those companies with immediate recruitment needs, the market dictates that a willingness to take some risks and invest in talent is required right now.

A creative approach to human resourcing

Ideally, we like to work with clients as early as possible in the planning stages for a large project, so we can provide up-to-date, regionally-adjusted market information on things like talent availability, salary and package expectations. Good candidates can be harder to find and take longer to find, too. By bringing your recruitment partner on board earlier, you reduce the risk of unrealistic commitments being made based on inaccurate or out-of-date candidate market data.

I am always open and honest with my clients, which sometimes involves challenging the brief or their expectations. But there are many different ways we can explore to meet recruitment challenges, and I enjoy the creative thinking that goes alongside that.

The process might involve re-examining the role, and repositioning it to be a better match for the current marketplace. We can also look internally, to map out current resources or undertake a skills audit, and perhaps re-shape teams to find better talent fits.

Understanding your value as an employer and competing in the marketplace

Overall, I think construction and infrastructure companies need to think about how they can make themselves more attractive as employers. Our industry is increasingly losing out, particularly among graduates and younger professionals, to more “trendy” sectors like tech.

At TS Grale, we have done extensive research into what the expectations will be among leaders of the future, including what millennials and generation Z employees find attractive in a job role or career path – and it might not be what you think! 

Financial remuneration is becoming less important, while things like brand values, lifestyle, flexible working and travel opportunities (for example) are becoming increasingly valued by younger professionals. In order to compete in the future, business leaders need to understand this and be clear on their own company values, culture and ethos, offering packages that suit modern ways of working and modern lifestyles.

You can read more on this in our recently published World Class Leader Report.

As always, I am happy to discuss any of the issues raised in this article in relation to your own company or recruitment needs.

If you would like to discuss planning and resourcing for large projects – either speculative or pre or post contract – contact us online or give us a call in confidence on +44 (0)113 487 9300.

Blog post by Sean Rowlands, Head of Construction & Infrastructure. Email: seanrowlands@tsgrale.com

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