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Hang on to your assets


While world recession looms more ominously than ever, the construction industry, at least for the moment, remains buoyant. NCE 's cover story (How much are you worth? 6 September) and the regular 16plus pages of job ads show just how hungry engineeering firms are for skilled employees.

Retaining good staff is an issue that employers are - or should be - taking very seriously.

Deputy head of the Industrial Society's policy department Andy Westwood points out that skills shortages herald a shift in power from the employer to the employee.

So what are firms doing to address the issue of staff retention?

'We're in the same situation as everyone else in that we're struggling with a particularly difficult situation, ' says Ray Bayliss, human resources manager with consultancy AECOM Maunsell.

'The first thing we've done to help retain staff is to look at our pay and benefits packages.'

As part of a larger US-owned group, the company can now offer some 'interesting stock options' which it hopes will engender loyalty and an identity with the business, says Bayliss.

'We've also restructured our training schemes to be more effective and interesting, and have tried to clarify our grading structure so people can see how they can progress.'

Brian Parker, personnel manager at Kier Group, agrees that retaining staff in the current climate is vital: 'It's important to make people feel that they have a long term future with the firm - particularly young people, ' he says.

Equally important, Parker adds, are training, development, the internal promotion of staff and ensuring people are valued for their contribution to the business. And in addition to offering the right salary, car and benefits, he says, employers have to help their staff to develop trust and confidence in their organisation.

But how can they do this?

Money is undoubtedly a motivator when it comes to retaining staff, but as Andy Westwood points out, employers should beware of competing on pay alone: 'There'll always be someone willing to pay more.'

He recommends instead that employers start looking at 'less obvious things' - the things that people really value.

While acknowledging that different people want different things, Westwood notes that time, or flexibility over time, scores highly with most.

'People will willingly work longer hours if they have more control over what these hours are, ' he argues.

'Flexibility' and 'control' soon emerge as buzzwords when discussing the issue of staff retention and loyalty with employment experts.

'It's important to ensure that employees have as much autonomy, or control over their job, as possible, ' says Imogen Daniels, a research and development adviser with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD). There needs to be a positive relationship between the employer and employee, Daniels insists, and this can only come from employers supporting their staff and making them feel valued - even down to simple things like saying thank you.

'Employees need to feel that their bosses have confidence in their decisions - even if this means merely acknowledging suggestions posted into an office suggestions box. ' And while one-off bonuses for successful projects are widely appreciated, CIPD research suggests that pay alone does not motivate people in the long term.

'Retaining staff is more about setting achievable targets, providing good training, and letting people feel that they have a future with an organisation, ' Daniels concludes.

Hold on to what you have got

Fiona Donachie, human resources manager for WSP Group, decribes her firm's approach to retaining valuable members of staff.

'WSP regards its employees as its most important resource, and the primary means by which the company can achieve its strategic and business aims. It is essential that we, as a company, retain our knowledge and skill base to maintain the high levels of service we provide to clients.

'We understand the benefit of good people management practices in retaining key staff and developing them as a resource to the business. We have recently introduced several initiatives, including an employee assistance programme, in-house training and development (for management and employees), regular performance appraisals and educational sponsorship. The results of these effects will, we know, be reaped in the long term, but there are already signs that retention has been affected positively, in what can only be described as a very competitive labour market.'

Key points

Construction companies are looking at how to hang on to staff during the skills crisis Money is not the only thing - time, feeling valued and being in control are also important Convincing people they have a long term future with the firm is seen as useful

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