Retention, not just recruitment – six ways to protect your company from the skills crisis

The manufacturing industry is in the grip of a well-documented skills crisis, with the government estimating that 186,000 new engineers will be needed each year until 2024. In a recent survey by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, three-quarters of manufacturers say they are concerned about accessing the skills their businesses need. This challenge is being compounded by the digital revolution, low unemployment and Brexit, prompting many companies to redouble their efforts to attract the next generation of engineers.

For SEEPEX UK, the focus has not simply been on talent recruitment, but talent retention.

By focusing on personal development and strong leadership, SEEPEX has fostered a culture of continuous improvement. It has recently been awarded the Investors In People gold standard for the third consecutive time, demonstrating continued strong commitment to high performance through good people management. Investors in People (IIP) is the international standard for people management, defining what it takes to lead, support and manage people effectively to achieve sustainable results. Underpinning the Standard is the IIP framework, reflecting the latest workplace trends, essential skills and effective structures required to outperform in any industry.

Not only has SEEPEX’s approach created a loyal and motivated workforce, it’s also delivering satisfied customers. But just what does it take to keep staff turnover low and morale high in today’s rapidly-changing workplace?

1. Assess skills gaps and address them

To keep staff motivated and ensure their knowledge remains up to date, regular skills analyses and evaluations are essential.

“We recognise that our people are our most important asset,” explains Peter McGarian, SEEPEX UK’s Managing Director. “Each employee is supported by their line manager to achieve the individual objectives in their personal learning and development plan. In addition, the departmental managers are responsible for our skills matrix, which is regularly updated.”

The matrix tracks the individual skills required for a role and rates them between 1-4. Each member of staff’s knowledge and expertise is also rated and if a discrepancy occurs, steps are taken to support the individual to address the gaps.

2. Offer a range of training options

Once a skills gap has been highlighted, it’s vital that appropriate training is offered. This could take the form of work shadowing, workplace mentoring, e-learning or external training. This approach has enabled SEEPEX to evolve as a business by developing new roles for staff members as their skill sets have expanded. This was confirmed in the IIP assessment by a number of employees, one of whom stated: ‘Roles evolve and develop and that helps people to progress.’

L-R Peter McGarian, managing director, and Tom Fussell, service team supervisor

One such example is Tom Fussell, who has seen his role develop since joining SEEPEX seven years ago. “Tom started with us in 2011 as an aftersales coordinator,” explains Lesley Eaton, SEEPEX’s Business Development and Marketing Manager. “In 2015, he become our aftersales and service coordinator, then in 2017 he achieved an NVQ level 3 in Engineering Technical Support, funded by SEEPEX with study time factored into his working week. In 2018, Tom was promoted to service team supervisor and is making a huge difference to the business. He has been involved in a project to improve the delivery of installations, where his organisational skills, developed through NVQ qualifications, have ensured that correct allocation of parts and people is achieved first time, every time. This has raised the team’s morale, improved customer service and increased the profitability of the department.”

3. Provide clear guidance

It’s important to set clear and concise guidelines for each role, so that every employee knows what’s expected of them and understands the framework within which they operate.

“We use Integrated Management Systems (IMS) to integrate our systems and processes, including health and safety, into one complete framework and have achieved the standards ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 18001,” outlines Lesley. “This enables all staff to work as a single unit with the same objectives.”

This unified approach was also evidenced during the IIP assessment, during which 97 per cent of staff said they were ‘set clear objectives’ and 100 per cent felt that they ‘contributed to the company’s overall performance’.

4. Seek independent assessment

“Third-party assessments are a great way of not just celebrating achievements but also identifying any areas for further improvement,” states Lesley. “For example, our IIP assessment compared us to industry standards in nine categories, in which over 17,000 companies are assessed. We exceeded the benchmark in seven of these.”

The significance of achieving the IIP gold standard was acknowledged by Investors in People’s CEO, Paul Devoy: “Of the worldwide Investors in People community, only 16 per cent of organisations have been able to achieve gold. Congratulations to SEEPEX on being an organisation that believes in the power of investing in their people.”

As well as the IIP award, SEEPEX has also been awarded 100% in its most recent independent Achilles audit, which assessed its on-site and off-site working practices.

5. Focus on core business

As a business grows, there can be a temptation to keep everything in-house. Before doing so, assess what’s critical to your core business and consider whether outsourcing non-essential functions may actually be a better option.

“As we’ve expanded over the past few years, not only have we upskilled our staff but we’ve also outsourced some tasks which are low-skilled or not directly related to our core business,” says Lesley. “This has freed us up to bring in more highly-skilled people; for example, by outsourcing some marketing and PR functions, we were able to bring in a full-time marketing analyst. And by outsourcing simple quote generation, we’ve been able to take on a new internal technical application engineer. However, we never outsource any engineering functions. This has meant we’ve been able to focus on improving our core business areas of engineering applications, technical support and servicing.”

6. Pass on the benefits to your customers

By investing in its people and focusing on its core business areas, SEEPEX is able to better support its customers, delivering added value beyond supplying a pump.

“Our customers see us not just as a supplier, but as a skills resource,” believes Lesley. “Amongst our staff, we have an extensive wealth of knowledge which they can tap into to improve their processes and become more efficient.”

A focus on staff development, first-class training, core business functions and customer service has seen SEEPEX’s profits over the past seven years increase by 36 per cent, while staffing levels have grown by just 12 per cent. The company now employs 33 members of staff, only four more than it did in 2011. Of these, 54 per cent have celebrated 10 years or more with the organisation – more than double the UK average. Proof, if it were needed, that there is more than one way to beat the skills crisis – retention can be just as important as recruitment.

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