Recruiting and Retaining Engineering Talent

In dealing with highly technical issues, complex development processes and technically oriented engineers, engineering managers rarely get the chance to actually manage. Instead, they often act as a firefighter to deal with the emergency of the day. Due to generational dynamics and hyper-specialization, however, the landscape of engineering staffing is changing. To get ahead of the curve, some organizations are far more serious about competitively recruiting and retaining engineers. Those efforts fall under the strategy called Talent Management.

Defining a Talent Management Strategy

Talent management refers to the anticipation of required human capital the organization needs at the time then setting a plan to meet those needs. Companies engaging in a talent management strategy shift the responsibility of employees from the human resources department to all managers throughout the organization.

Source: Wikipedia entry for Talent Management

Traditionally, managing an engineering organization has been fairly reactive in nature. Searching for candidates usually starts after a key engineer has left the organization. Reviews are usually driven by corporate mandates. Training of individuals usually occurs as part of some certification.

In a Talent Management strategy, however, those activities are both more explicitly defined and more proactive in nature. Table 6 shows some of this formal definition, per the Wikipedia entry for Talent Management and translates it into engineering applicability.

Table 6: Applicability of Talent Management Traits to Engineering

Talent Management Traits

Applicability to Engineering

Sourcing, attracting, recruiting and onboarding qualified candidates with competitive backgroundsGiven the coming competition for top engineers and the need for immediate productivity, these activities are critical to attracting the right candidates and onboarding them quickly to ensure the productivity of the organization.
Managing and defining competitive salariesTracking competitive compensation is important. However, it’s also important to understand the organizational traits and benefits necessary to attract the top engineering candidates.
Training and development opportunitiesWith increased need for hyper-specialization for mechatronics development as well as soft skills for groupthink design, training programs and career development are critical to making sure they gain the right skills, knowledge and experience to design products.
Performance management processesAlignment between engineers and their organization is critical to productivity. Explicitly and proactively executing a performance management process is an important way to ensure such alignment.
Retention programsThis idea refers to actively managing the retention of employees with specific efforts. Different kinds of engineers, split along generational lines or even disciplines, will be motivated by different kinds of programs.
Promotion and transitioningThis effort refers to succession planning, in which specific individuals actively develop several engineering candidates to take their place one day, as well as transitioning engineers between different roles.

Challenges addressed by Talent Recruitment and Retainment Strategy

Adopting a Talent Management strategy can be a sizeable undertaking. However, this effort directly addresses a wide variety of challenges that result from the five trends shaping modern engineering.

Table 7: Challenges addressed by a Talent Management Strategy

Trend

Challenge Addressed

Advantage Provided

Profitable Growth and Engineering StaffingEngineering managers need to minimize the effect of staffing volatility on the productivity of the organization.By constantly recruiting and attracting a pool of qualified candidates, engineering managers can hire new engineers more readily. Formalized onboarding efforts offer a faster path to productivity.
The Expanding Role of the Modern EngineerEngineering managers need to modernize the soft skills of their engineers to facilitate collaboration inside and outside engineering.Leadership training and development programs improve an engineer’s soft skills. Specifically, it can enhance their ability to work with others inside and outside engineering.
The Expanding Role of the Modern EngineerEngineering managers must maintain their engineer’s existing technical skills while improving their soft skills.Technical training and development programs develop an engineer’s design and validation skills. Specifically, it expands their knowledge and skills in various mechatronic domains.
The Coming War for Engineering TalentEngineering managers must find ways to recruit GenY engineers using benefits other than monetary compensation.This strategy provides a means to understand which organizational traits and characteristics are most attractive to candidates not only from different generations but also from different geographic regions of the world.

Steps to pursue Talent Management

  • The engineering manager will need to identify which aspects of the Talent Management strategy he or she wants to implement. That will determine which processes, such as performance management, onboarding, development and training, succession planning, recruitment and others are affected. These processes should be formalized and deployed across the organization. Human Resources will need to play an active role in advising the engineering manager as well as supporting the management changes along the way.
  • When a Talent Management strategy is deployed in an engineering organization, it will take some time for employees to get comfortable with the change. It will be important to be consistent with the effort and clearly communicate the intent to the organization.