Cementing the Talent Crunch

October 2015
ANJALI BYCE, elaborates upon strategies that have paid dividends.

The construction industry is a critical and integral part of our growing economy. With the recent focus of the government on growth, ´Make in India´ and smart cities, the construction and infrastructure industry has come into direct focus. This industry will be one of the key pillars of the success story. All of this, of course, implies the need for the industry to scale up while addressing internal challenges.

India has a small number of large, organised construction companies while the majority are unorganised and operate on a subcontracting model. As a result, while the construction and infrastructure industry faces common people challenges, as do other industries (leadership development, building performance-oriented cultures and employee engagement, to name a few), the challenge is compounded owing to the unique nature of the business model. Not only is the workforce scattered, a large proportion is contractual, specialised skill base, subcontracted and isolated to a specific project (often in a remote location).

As the most critical resource for this industry is workforce (apart from finances and cost and quality of material used), success hinges on building a skilled and sustained talent base. Unfortunately, the recent past has seen a large chunk of talent (especially from the younger generation) being attracted to professions other than the construction industry. While all industry verticals face a talent crunch, this movement away has aggravated the scarcity of skills in the industry. With the demands placed by the new government initiatives, there is an urgency to address this as soon as possible. Indeed, the focus needs to be on ´attraction and engagement of talent´.

Attracting talent
I propose a multipronged approach to attract talent:

  • Build the ´brand´ of a construction specialist: This should focus beyond skills and extend to new technologies, energy saving and green construction.
  • Focus on leadership and innovation: Every construction site head acts as a CEO of the project and this can be a demanding role.
  • Build the pipeline: Scholarships, sponsorship, apprentice awards and career paths for subcontracted workforce to build engagement and retain trained skills.
  • Revisit the unconscious bias that may exist in the recruiting process: Can we bring-in women into the industry?

Engaging with a scattered workforce
Communicating and engaging with employees can be a challenge in the best of times. And when it comes to engaging an employee base that is dispersed across the country in remote sales offices and customer sites, it becomes herculean.

The key to retention is an engaged workforce. How do organisations connect with remote employees and unify a scattered workforce? Here are some ways in which SKF India successfully tries to keep its remote employees engaged, no matter where they are located.

Create a platform for face-to-face interaction: Remote employees - such as site engineers who work based out of the customer´s office - often do not get the experience of belonging to a common workplace culture. They may tend to feel disconnected from the organisation as they do not meet their peers in person frequently. At SKF, we try to overcome this challenge by organising outbound training and workshops at least once in every six months. Such meetings and workshops are a good way to help them catch up on the latest organisational happenings and help engender a sense of community and belonging.

Collaborate virtually: While there´s no better way to connect with employees than meeting face-to-face, we encourage remote employees to use online collaboration tools such as Quickr and WebEx to ensure that teams are ´virtually present´ for meetings.

  • Celebrate accomplishments: Every once in a while, it is important to pause, look back, and celebrate team and individual accomplishments. This helps foster a sense of camaraderie between colleagues, and works as a motivator. While this drives the right ´behaviours´, it also creates strong bonds. At SKF, we annually organise Site Engineers Day, during which employees are recognised and rewarded for their good work. Besides this, we organise an annual Long Service Awards Ceremony to recognise the contribution of employees who have built the foundation of who we are today.
  • Keep remote employees informed: Keeping remote employees informed about developments in the company may sometimes be a challenge with limited access to SKF´s work network and intranet portal. We surmounted this with a HR newsletter. This provides yet another platform for employees to share their thoughts and connect.
  • Go beyond work - get personal: They may seem small but a quick chat before a meeting or discussing the weekend over a cup of coffee are important for building personal relationships. This is often a challenge for remote employees. In addition to frequent calls, the HR partners at SKF, travel to sites and meet the engineers and their families over lunch or dinner.
  • Touch lives in a meaningful way: In a project-driven industry, there is an additional opportunity to build relationships. With a large contract workforce, organisations can ensure that contracting agencies deploy health and education schemes for the families of the mobile unorganised workforce. These programmes are not only meaningful but lead to higher ownership, productivity and engagement of talent for future projects.

If you notice a disconnect within your remote workforce, experiment with different methods to engage them meaningfully. Weaving development, career building and collaboration into your engagement strategy makes it more holistic. Keep your policies and programmes agile and inclusive of every employee in the remotest location.
It is never too late to start - cement your talent crunch by attracting and engaging meaningfully.

About the author:
Anjali Byce, Director-Human Resources, SKF India, has made significant contributions including multiple business partnership programmes, implementation of a culture-based HR strategy, capability building, Six Sigma and diversity initiatives.