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Attracting & Retaining A-Grade Talent in a Booming Market

Attracting & Retaining A-Grade Talent in a Booming Market

Posted on 17/06/2019 by Will Tilley

A Grade Talent

This was going to be part II of the Opportunities, Challenges & Traps in a Booming market piece I posted recently. However, as I had a number of conversations with clients recently around attracting and retaining top-level talent, this piece evolved into a look into just that.

Amazingly, we are already in Q2 of 2019, and as we hammer toward the end of the financial year we will continue to see the Infrastructure market heat up. Whilst there have been a couple of false starts over the last couple of years, the Western Highway and the M80 Upgrade (both Western and Northern sections) are good examples of this, the overall market has continued to swell and increase pressure on resources.

We have recently seen the award of the Mordialloc Freeway, with the Monash Freeway, Echuca-Moama Bridge, M80 Northern Sections and a number of other major projects to be awarded over the coming weeks and months. These projects will again increase the overall demand for talent within what is an already stretched market. So how do you, as an employer or manager attract, and more importantly retain, an A-Grade Team? Contrary to what some would have you believe, it's definitely NOT all about money.

The number one thing you have to come to terms with is that Gen Y/Millennials (of which I am one), now aged 20 - 35, are a huge part of your workforce and complaining about how different we are to previous generations isn't going to change that. Despite what some would have you believe, Gen Y isn't the entitled generation who expect everything to just happen for us. Certainly, this is not true for A-Grade Talent.

What HAS changed is that we are less likely to stay in a working environment that doesn't fit us, and even less likely to put up with a shitty or toxic working environment. While this is written with a slant towards the young and up and coming leaders in the industry, a lot of this is also now true for Gen X and Baby Boomers (just like many of you who were born before 1981 and don't classify as Gen Y are on Facebook now, you're following our lead).

It is a lot easier in 2019 than a decade ago to find out what another company is doing to give back to its employees, and to find out what kind of culture they have. Many companies are investing much more heavily than previously in their branding as an employer, and this is a growing trend especially over the last two to three years in the Built Environment. 

Branding and promotion is one part of the battle. If done well, it will help you get the attention of the A-Grade talent you're looking to bring in to your business or your team. However, it counts for little if you can't back it up. That same A-Grade Talent will walk right out the door if the reality doesn't match the promotion.

Before you rush out to buy a table tennis table*, let's look at the main motivators of A Grade Talent. Before we do though, let me make it abundantly clear… If you think that money is THE key to attracting A Grade talent, expect to pay WELL ABOVE market value. Of course, it is likely we will see salaries increase further over the next couple of years as companies push to attract candidates, and you will need to pay what the market is paying to attract the A-Graders. However, this is only one piece of the puzzle. Realistically (unless you get really lucky), in this market anyone you are keen to bring into your team is going to be working already. For these people to look at a potential new opportunity, they are generally looking for some combination of the following.

Career Advancement/Development opportunities: This doesn't always mean moving for a promotion. If there is an opportunity to broaden their experience and learn, along with opportunities for promotion (particularly merit-based) as they develop - this will help attract and retain top talent.

Challenge: This goes hand in hand with advancement and development. The top talent wants to be busy, they want to be challenged, and to feel like they're being utilised to their capabilities. I get calls from top quality candidates reasonably frequently saying that they are feeling under-utilised and bored and asking what might be out there for them. A lot of the time, the company they are working for are doing some or many of the other things right, which may buy them some time, but when A Graders feel like they're stagnating they will look to move to a new opportunity where they feel challenged.

Culture: We're not just looking for that table tennis table or fancy office space. Can those things help? Yes, but only as a sweetener and if there isn't a bunch of rules around the usage. Culture is a hard one to define, and the leaders within a company have to set the direction. There isn't a specific mould that makes your culture necessarily better than another. Different people and personalities will fit into different cultures.

The constant in attracting A-Grade talent though is having what I call a "People First" culture. Understanding that your employees have lives, family, friends, and don't necessarily define their existence by their role within your company is absolutely paramount. Further to understanding, genuinely caring will help you to guide your culture and look after the individuals within your team. This leads perfectly into…

Work / Life Balance: Some people don't like the term work/life balance so if it helps, call it work/life integration. The construction industry and work/life balance traditionally haven't really gone hand in hand. I've heard it called both unrealistic and an oxymoron. It's 2019, it doesn't have to be that way anymore. We have Laptops, mobile phones, and that thing they call "The Cloud".

Your top employees (the A Graders) are likely self-starters. They're motivated to get shit done. If they've got access to their phone, laptop and your cloud-based software, they'll crack open the laptop on the kitchen table and do what they need to do after they've got the kids to bed or after footy training (or whatever it may be). Giving your employees some flexibility where possible is going to go a lot further toward you retaining your best employees than it will to hurting your productivity levels. Which brings me to…

Trust: Simply, if you can't trust your employees to do what you hired them for, why did you hire them in the first place? This extends to trusting them to work from home where possible. Micromanaging motivated, talented and skilled employees is a great way to drive them to talk to a competitor or someone like me.

Location: This one is tougher to control as an employer or manager, but it does tie into work/life balance for a lot of candidates, especially those who have families. Given the often long hours worked in this industry, removing the lengthy commute allows people to spend up to potentially an extra two hours a day with their loved ones. Whilst it will depend on a number of factors, understanding where your employees live and trying to align them with a project closer to home can sometimes help retain your staff. I'm still amazed when I hear stories of employees crossing town each day to work, and waving as they pass their colleagues heading in the opposite direction.


*You can still buy a table tennis table. It's actually a pretty good thing to have for casual team/morale building (especially with a drink on a Friday afternoon).


If you would like to discuss how your business can attract and retain A Grade Talent, please don't hesitate to get in touch via phone or email.