It is vital for construction and infrastructure firms to safeguard new talent so they can avert a leadership skills gap, according to a senior industry figure. In a recent interview, WSP UK boss Mark Naysmith warned his sector that a short-termist approach to staffing amid the pandemic could leave employers facing a drought of future leaders. (New Civil Engineer, 7 September 2020)
In particular, Naysmith called on the industry to harness the Construction Leadership Council’s Talent Retention Scheme, devised in partnership with the Association for Consultancy and Engineering. Launched in July, the portal enables firms to help colleagues who have lost jobs during the pandemic back into work, and makes it easier for employers to find candidates for any emerging vacancies. (CLC Press Office, 8 July 2020)
Naysmith stressed that the professional services field is “defined by its people”, and that spreading the word about the portal “is vital to retain skills and talent within our sector.”
He noted: “We must also not make the mistakes of past recessions. There is a skills challenge around the retention of future talent, and our apprentices and graduates must be protected from the impact of the economic downturn, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. Currently, we are facing several skills challenges which will be exacerbated if we do not retain our early career professionals.”
Naysmith explained that Brexit has led to a falling off in the number of European graduates coming to the UK, and that firms are facing challenges with onboarding UK school-leavers and graduates whose progress may be hindered by the pandemic.
Naysmith urged employers “to consider this when making difficult decisions” in the coming months. “Collectively,” he noted, “we can make the future more sustainable and provide the skills and talent we need to deliver our clients’ projects – but we must support the leaders of that future both today and tomorrow.”
Which sorts of actions can employers in other sectors take to prevent the type of leadership skills gap that Naysmith highlights?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This is particularly interesting in light of some new research we are publishing this week, which explores a looming leadership skills gap in housing. What we found is that there is a generation of people who grew their careers in the housing sector and became senior figures in housing organisations – predominantly in a public-sector context – and are now facing retirement.
“In the meantime, housing has changed dramatically, with much greater involvement from entities such as social enterprises and public-private partnerships. As a result of those shifts, housing is being provided in a very different way to what is widely considered the traditional model – that is, a service provided by local corporations as a public-sector offering. So, we had long-serving people in housing who saw their place in the industry as almost a calling – they saw the social underpinnings of their jobs as particularly important.”
Cooper stresses: “As organisations look to farm out work to save on headcount, what we can’t do is to lose sight of our purpose. Indeed, if our purpose becomes merely short-term survival, there will be no talent nurturing at all. There will be no investment in graduate training programmes. But it’s not just about bringing young people in. As we found in our housing research, the talent is in many cases already there – but organisations just aren’t inclusive enough when it comes to the development process.
“With that in mind,” Cooper notes, “we’re encouraging employers to consider questions such as: to what extent do we want to be a sustainable organisation in several years’ time? What sorts of people will we need in order to become more sustainable – and ensure that we are driven by a true purpose, rather than the demands of short-term survival? This is a bit like that old question, when’s the best time to plant a tree? To which the stock answer tends to be, ’25 years ago.’ The point being that you can’t develop talent overnight – and poaching it from elsewhere to fill gaps in your organisation will count for nothing if those hires themselves haven’t received the time and investment that development requires.”
She adds: “Importantly, we have to see leadership as something that happens at every level of an organisation, and understand that everyone has the potential – should they wish to live it – to influence and lead. That doesn’t hinge on a role title, and nor does it hinge on seniority. It hinges upon encouraging people to see that they are valued.
“As I have said before in our blogs, the rapid and innovative pivots that firms came up with in response to Covid-19 – whether in terms of tweaking business models or shifting to home working – didn’t stem from processes or procurement protocols. They stemmed from people having the energy, enthusiasm and will to make things work. They’re the qualities we need to retain.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on developing talent