Industry Market Trends

Friday Focus: Lessons from Engineering Recruiters to Attract Top Talent Faster

Aug 16, 2013

As advanced technologies command more skilled engineers in the manufacturing space, companies are finding a shortage of talent. Recruiting the best engineers is often a matter of having a fundamental hiring strategy in place, and two professional engineering recruiters shared their insights with IMT Career Journal on how this can be done most effectively.

According to recent surveys, engineering jobs are among the hardest occupations to fill in 2013. A recent CareerBuilder survey that asked over 2,000 hiring employers to identify the hardest-to-fill positions within their organizations found that engineers ranked in the sixth spot. A separate survey from staffing firm ManpowerGroup, which queried over 1,000 U.S. employers, also ranked engineers in their top 10 most difficult positions to fill.

The manufacturing industry, reliant on engineers for their skills in advanced technology such as automation, is feeling the impact, according to top recruiters.

"It seems like most manufacturing companies have a shortage of skilled engineers, but at the same time, they need talent that is able to hit the ground running," said Travis Almy, director of recruiting for the professional solutions division at TRC Staffing Services Inc., who added that the skills gap, a prominent challenge for manufacturers, can be linked mostly to the aging workforce. "I work with one manufacturing company that told me that they expect nearly 60 percent of their engineering workforce to be depleted due to retirement in the next 10 years," he said.

The most in-demand engineers, according to Almy, are plant engineers. "In particular, we are seeing a pretty tight labor market in the automation and controls area, and engineers in this field have been really tough for us to find," he explained.

Jay Rogers, the vice president of recruiting at Randstad Engineering, which works with a large manufacturing client base, noted that electrical engineers are the most difficult to find for the company, and explained that employers need to act faster to find the right talent for their pipelines. He referred to the recent 2013 Randstad Engineering Report, which found that confidence levels about employment among engineers increased from 54.9 percent in the previous quarter to 61.9 percent, with those in industry citing increased confidence in the economy.

"When you look at engineering unemployment overall at 3.4 percent, compared to the nationwide unemployment rate (at 7.4 percent), and then go into specific disciplines such as petroleum engineers, who have less than 1 percent unemployment, it's a good time to be an engineer," said Rogers.

The challenge, though, is for employers to take the right steps to get the best talent, according to Rogers and Almy. Here are their top tips for companies looking to find the best.

Be Flexible with Job Requirements

"There might be half a million electrical engineers out there, but when you start parsing down how many have worked in a manufacturing environment, and how many have worked in your particular type of manufacturing environment, with particular manufacturing systems, that pull gets tighter and tighter," Rogers explained.

Instead of aiming to place a candidate that matches all job requirements, he explains that companies should be more flexible. "If you're looking for a person with a particular 10 skills sets, and if you can't find them or afford them, get someone with five of those skills sets and maybe you could ramp that person up pretty quickly to get them going in your area," he explained.

Almy also added that it's important to consider specific skill sets that aren't necessarily technical. "One of the things we see smart employers doing is looking at potential candidates that may not match that job description at 100 percent...but they consider candidates that they think have enough of the relevant experience, and have the proper soft skills such as the aptitude to learn, and the energy levels to get the job done."

Revisit Current Recruitment Tactics

In a competitive engineering marketplace, manufacturers need to act much faster to keep up with industry demands. Yet recruiters find that perhaps due to a misconception of high unemployment rates, their manufacturing clients don't hire fast enough, especially with new graduates who may be getting multiple job offers at once.

Rogers noted that one of the biggest trends (and missteps) among clients is delaying the hiring process too long, often finding that engineering candidates will get a counter-offer from a competing company and fall off a company radar for good. The experts explain that even passive engineering candidates are in demand.

"I was speaking to a candidate recently with an in-demand skill set, I think he was an electrical engineer, and he said on average, he was probably getting calls from recruiters three to four times per week," said Almy, explaining that the engineer wasn't applying to jobs but was still receiving a high volume of calls for interviews.

One effective strategy to retain talent during the hiring process includes condensing interview times. Said Almy: "Whereas in the past it may have took several weeks to a month and as many as four to five interviews, some of our clients are now doing a phone interview and one face-to-face interview and that's it. They are dramatically condensing their interview cycles. It's a good thing for candidates, and I think it's a good thing for companies too."

"Employers should give a time-stamp commitment and say, 'I will get back in touch with you tomorrow at 3 and let you know your next steps,' and honor that, and get those people coming in," Rogers stressed.

Give Your Company Branding Edge

Best-in-class employers that Almy has worked with have built talent development strategies, particularly for young engineers. Several of his clients have been effective by building internal talent acquisition programs that target specific engineering talent, even before they have a resume.

"What they're doing is they are starting to go to these schools that have engineering programs and building relationships with students while they're still freshmen or sophomores," Almy explained. By the time these students are graduating, they've already been recruited by some of the top employers, two or three years prior, he said. Those organizations that don't do this may fall behind on the skilled worker pipeline by missing out on this tactic.

With a vast employer pool to choose from, candidates will appreciate extra perks that are being offered by organizations to lure them to jobs. The recruiters note that the savviest employers are finding ways to differentiate their workplace brands from their competitors in order to be more attractive to the best talent. And these tactics don't always have to do with salary offers, although even a slightly higher salary offer always helps.

"Employers are [distinguishing themselves] through benefits such as health club memberships, the ability to work from home, flexible work hours, increased vacation times, and even types of technologies (such as automation), which can be a draw to some candidates," said Almy.


What do you think the most effective strategy is for recruiting top engineering talent? Let us know in the comment section below, or contact the author on Twitter at BethG_TN to share your tips.