The Last Word

01.08.15

TfL shows the benefits of diversifying career paths

Blane Judd BandES Chief Executive  resize 635768085215139883Blane Judd, chief executive of EngTechNow, which supports companies in ensuring their staff and apprentices achieve Engineering Technician (EngTech) professional registration, says such registration helps ensure diversified career paths.

For every effort you make to enhance retention, some staff will always leave. We can try to address the reasons for this, but without keeping all of your staff all of the time, you need to address transition. And our new research reveals the cost of that transition.

Nine years of company data shows it costs a firm around £5,000 in lost productivity whenever a senior technician or engineer leaves a business. That figure is just the result of the departing technician or engineer spending time on handover activities instead of productive engineering – and the reduced productivity of their replacement until they adapt to their new employer.

There are less tangible costs too. For example, our ‘champion employers’ tell us that hiring staff can take up to two weeks of productive time for senior staff within their business. These are talented engineers and technicians spending time away from engineering in the midst of a skills gap.

Fortunately – as always – some organisations are leading the way in reducing the impact. Transport for London (TfL) is undertaking a large programme to professionally register its technicians. Its reason for doing so is that it helps it to break down conventional ‘stovepipe’ career development in which many staff rise only within their specialism. This is indicative of the way engineering is going.

The Olympics saw an unlocking of cross-discipline working at TfL. Staff were given the opportunity to take their skills all over the business to deliver services throughout the Olympic summer. This has resulted in big benefits, as Dana Skelly, director of asset management at TfL (pictured, above, with TfL apprentices), explained during our research.

Since then, TfL has seen more engineers gain greater experience of stakeholder engagement, dealing with the public, and crossing over in other disciplines. That greater integration of operations means it is a lot easier for staff to seek more diverse promotions within the company. And that in turn benefits TfL, by giving them a wider internal pool of talent to fish from, and offering greater opportunities to promote people they know can adapt quickly.

Retention resize 635768084999679056 resize 635768085732933147That promotion is critical to reducing the retention gap. Not only is it widely recognised that good prospects keep staff engaged and less likely to leave a business, but promotion from within significantly reduces the productivity loss when somebody does leave.

The lost productivity when a senior technician leaves a business is typically £4,908. This contrasts to a loss of £2,820 when a technician needs to be replaced.

The implications are clear. By ensuring technicians are ready for the step up, companies like TfL can recruit closer to entry-level positions and reduce the hit on productivity.

It is this kind of thinking that has led to companies like Crossrail, Amey, and BAM Nuttall to sign public charters committing to help more of their staff to achieve EngTech status. However, companies still need to hire successfully at whatever level they hire.

This can be a real challenge. Our data suggests that staff are around twice as likely to leave their job in the first year than in any of the four subsequent years. So for many companies, there is a re-replacement issue to address.

Feeding into our report, Keith Lewis of Matchtech explained that the days of laying a CV over the old job spec and finding the closest match were dead, or should be. The reason is clear: with engineering skills at a premium, the applicant is king or queen. If a company doesn’t sell itself well, it won’t get the quality of staff it needs. If it sells itself inaccurately, it will quickly lose the applicants it does attract.

So we all need to fish from a larger pool. Right now the oil and gas sector is contracting. This represents an opportunity for companies ahead of the curve in other areas of engineering.

Technicians and engineers leaving that industry may not have direct experience of rail technology, but they will have years of experience and engineering knowledge that can be adapted to the specific needs of a new field. What is harder to teach on the job is the professionalism and personality that means someone fits the company or not.

As more employers adopt this outlook to find staff who provide the right fit, and recognise the core competences that will allow them to learn their new area of engineering, the retention gap will be reduced, engineering careers will become more diverse – and potentially more attractive too.

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