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Everyone counts in a healthy company


The problem with business today is that company bosses spend too much time worrying about stock prices and not nearly enough time thinking about their staff.

So said former ICI chairman and business trouble shooting guru Sir John Harvey-Jones during a TV interview last week.

And from what I see, in construction at least, he is spot on.

Last week I reflected on the vital need for teamwork, judgement, commitment and trust to underpin every activity in engineering. Going back a step, it is of course people - what they know and how they behave - that directly affect whether or not these things happen.

And in engineering - aside from the odd bit of plant and material - people and talent are all that we have. Network Rail will be all too aware of the need to ensure that the best staff - managers through to the guys on the tools - transfer with their maintenance contracts. It knows it is the people not the contracts that will, after all, get the railways back in shape.

And it is reassuring that there is already talk of the need to create 'solid platforms for careers in the railway' at Network Rail.

But enough of the rail industry. Three weeks ago I was involved in judging the NCE Graduate Awards and, as usual, was blown away by the talent.

The winner will be announced tomorrow at a special lunch during the Construction Careers Event in London.

All six shortlisted finalists were outstanding. All six have great careers ahead and will deliver outstanding work for their current and future employers.

Clearly their employers really do value these young people.

Time and attention was being given to their career development to ensure they were getting the right mix of experience and learning. Many were also coached and guided ahead of the competition final by very senior bosses.

The competition concentrates company minds on the need to give this kind of attention to early career development. We are certainly not yet out of the woods on this issue but there is at least an understanding in the industry that to attract the brightest and best you have to offer better careers.

My concern has now switched to early/mid career engineers. Here we seem to have an increasingly disgruntled and demoralised bunch.

Having slogged through the training process they often find themselves under-used, understimulated and under-valued.

And, they insist, under-paid.

The current hiatus in big new construction projects will only accentuate the problem as trained engineers 'twiddle their thumbs' while itching to get on with their careers. Firms must act now to retain the interest of these vital engineers and ensure the skills are still available when the big projects materialise.

So yes, companies need to worry about attracting and developing young engineers.

But they cannot afford to ignore the rest. They must stimulate these engineers, challenge and reward them. Or see them disappear.

It is two-way of course. If you are one of these under-stimulated engineers there is probably an enlightened employer out there looking for you. Do not be shy. A visit to the Construction Careers Event this week might be the route to finding them.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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