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Stories from the engine room (Feb 2011)

Posted By Chris Reay, Friday, 11 March 2011

I have decided to relate some experiences from my current business activities that consist of a fair mix of recruitment and placement of engineering resources, training, mentoring and consulting assignments, and some services to the Institution and the Engineering Council. All in all, it mixes pretty well, with the common focus being on engineering skills acquisition, evaluation, communication, collaboration, development and the steady building of a large, live database of new graduates of all disciplines and active and retired engineering resources . The major part is interfacing. with employers and candidates. Working in the engine room so to speak on a daily basis provides one with up -to-date information, change patterns, trends, behaviours and the supply and demand dynamics directly affecting the profession. So hopefully this is of some value. My very limited story, in a note form with comments, seems the most appropriate way to set this out.

  1. There are far too many agencies in the recruitment space. Many are not more than body shops, collecting CVs and submitting them out to all and sundry with little care as to job and profile alignment. Most claim to have expertise across many varied professions and trades. Few do as we do, focus only on the engineering profession and provide guidelines and assistance to employers and candidates as Professional Engineers can and should do. We supply the people part of the engineering business, just as other experts provide equipment.
  2. HR does enormous harm to the process of procuring Engineers. Employers who normally take great care in specifying a product, seeking out reputable suppliers, visiting their works and assisting the technical buyers will somehow avoid involvement and leave HR to do the work of handling dubiously worded job specifications, at times we have counted, to up to 40 separate agencies for one post! Why not align with selected specialist consultants who know the product and the profession, particularly in pre-planning future needs?
  3. A 24 year old recruiter in an agency will interview a 53 year old Professional Engineer and advise him he is too old for the job. It happens . If that is not the height of insult then what is? Our greatest engineering talent exists at this age and beyond, and it is being neglected at great risk of losing experiential skills.
  4. A common feature is how many candidates simply cannot spell, edit a CV, read the job specifications and who will apply for a position shortly after graduating that specifies 10-15 years experience in an engineering management role. This "give it a go” attitude can often comprise the bulk of applications.
  5. The time is past that employers, perhaps through the naivety of HR, can expect Mr or Ms Perfect to be standing on the street corner waiting for their call. The good ,experienced skills are in short supply and fully employed, are internationally mobile and proving it, and demand high remuneration to the surprise of the prospective employers who claim the candidate be to out of touch with the market. Well, I am not sure where HR gets their "market levels”, but invariably from historic tables issued a while ago with somewhat wide and unhelpful margins and weak descriptors. The difference is so evident that we are considering publishing a real-time remuneration survey for interested employers based on our own up to the minute information for the engineering profession, a sort of real-time remuneration survey.
  6. Then we must take up some concerns with line management. How many are really equipped to make a valid judgment from a CV alone? Many are so busy that they have not viewed them or done so in such a hurry with no reverting questions and simply accept or reject them. I have witnessed a small pump getting more adjudication time than a senior engineering candidate!
  7. Near-fit of candidate to the specified role does not succeed. The belief that Mr or Ms Perfect must be found is the only way. We have no time to train up the near-fits. I am appalled at the lack of training, mentoring and acceptance of this within the crisis we face in scarce skills today. Industry needs a major wake-up if it is to collectively be in a position to manage a serious growth development in the economy.
  8. If our own SA Engineers knew the remuneration that foreign expats are earning on our Eskom projects, they would have a fit. And many of our own are equally able to provide the skills and expertise.
  9. As Engineer Placements, we are working closely with Voluntary Associations and ECSA to develop structured training and mentoring for the EIT programme required after graduation. The intent is to seek out retired Engineers to act as paid mentors with programmes endorsed via the SAIMechE Professional Development Programme with funding from the revised NSDS3 and industry. At least Minister Ebrahim Patel, in his call to train 30,000 more Engineers, should be grateful and hopefully actively supportive. Pigs may fly though.

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