Chad Jackson

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 firefighters, dealing 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 …

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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 firefighters, dealing 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 have become far more serious about competitively recruiting and retaining engineers. These efforts fall under the strategy called Talent Management.

Defining a Talent Management Strategy

Talent management refers to the anticipation of required human capital that an organization needs at the time, then setting a plan to meet those needs. Companies engaging in a talent management strategy shift the responsibility of hiring 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 generally driven by corporate mandates. Training of individuals frequently occurs due to certification requirements.

In a Talent Management strategy, however, these activities are more explicitly defined and proactive in nature. The table below gives a formal definition per the Wikipedia entry for Talent Management and translates it into engineering applicability.

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 top engineering candidates.
Training and development opportunitiesWith the increased need for hyper-specialization for mechatronics development, as well as soft skills for group-think design, training programs and career development are critical to ensure new employees 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 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 a Talent Recruitment and Retainment Strategy

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

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 both inside and outside engineering.Leadership training and development programs can improve an engineer’s soft skills. Specifically, these programs can enhance engineers’ ability to work with others both 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 evolve an engineer’s design and validation skills. Specifically, these programs expand engineers’ knowledge and skills in various mechatronic domains.
The Coming War for Engineering TalentEngineering managers must find ways to recruit Gen-Y engineers by 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

  • Engineering managers will need to identify which aspects of the Talent Management strategy they wish to implement. That will determine which processes, such as performance management, onboarding, development and training, succession planning, and recruitment, are affected. These processes should be formalized and deployed across the organization. Human Resources will need to play an active role in advising engineering managers, 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 become comfortable with the change. It will be important to be consistent with the effort and clearly communicate the intent to the organization.
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