Workforce Development

The best engineers are going to the competition, and here’s why

Hiring engineers is hard. Five reasons why and five tips on how to improve hiring engineers are highlighted.

By Gary Miller August 2, 2021
Courtesy: Miller Resource Group

 

Learning Objectives

  • To hire better engineers, look at scarcity and competition.
  • Consider logistics and location to hire more engineers.
  • Fix poor hiring practices and invest in engineering talent.

Hiring can be a challenge at any time, but in 2021, hiring for talented engineers feels especially difficult. Five factors are making it even harder to find and hire the ideal candidate, and if these are not addressed, the competition will be a few steps ahead.

In most surveys of executives in automation, the ability to find and hire top-tier engineering talent is usually cited at or near the top as the greatest challenge to growth. Although the same holds true in almost every industry now, since manufacturing supplies the world with its necessities, the struggle is amplified.

Top five reasons hiring engineers are hard

Here are the top five reasons why hiring is so hard – and a few things to improve hiring engineers:

  1. Scarcity
  2. Competition
  3. Logistics and location
  4. Poor practices
  5. Failure to invest.

How can engineering companies fix this problem and hire top-tier engineering talent? Start with these five fundamentals.

1. How to fix hiring engineers: Scarcity

With Baby Boomers retiring at a faster rate than people entering the workforce, a painful gap is widening, especially since young people entering the workforce have so many options. Social media and the media in general have created other career paths for technically minded folks to pursue besides engineering. Manufacturing may not have the allure of medicine, energy, financial markets and other areas, which further diminishes the candidate pool. Although technical schools are teaming up with local companies and associations to address the shortfall, it is not happening fast enough to fill the void.

2. How to fix hiring engineers: Competition

Consider the competition for free agents in sports and the idea is apparent right away. When stars become available, there is often a bidding war. The star athlete usually can dictate the terms, the location and other considerations. When a talented engineer or manager in the field wants to consider options, companies can find themselves in a competitive struggle to land the best candidates.  Competitive compensation, benefits, location, strong culture, public image and quality of leadership must be excellent to even get a proper look by the top tier candidates. Fall short in any of these areas and the positions might get filled, but not with the movers and shakers.

3. How to fix hiring engineers: Logistics and location

Good candidates are hard to find in well-populated areas, and even harder in many remote areas.  Manufacturing plants are frequently located in rural areas, originally to attract lower-cost labor. As manufacturing becomes more automated, fewer workers may be required, but the worker’s skill level needed to operate plants is higher and more difficult – if not impossible – to find locally. Getting someone willing to relocate is even tougher. The real estate market going wild in certain areas is another complicated variable.

Surveys by Control Engineering magazine, sponsored by Miller Resource Group, have found the number of people “definitely willing to relocate” has fallen by 6% since the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, more than half of all workers would consider a move, but like the star athlete, where they will consider going is often more about lifestyle than the job itself.

Evaluate company hiring practices, considering scarcity, competition, logistics and location, poor practices and failure to invest to determine where improvements can be made. Courtesy: Miller Resource Group

Evaluate company hiring practices, considering scarcity, competition, logistics and location, poor practices and failure to invest to determine where improvements can be made. Courtesy: Miller Resource Group

4. How to fix hiring engineers: Poor practices

Some companies have a good brand, a buttoned-up hiring process and competitive compensation. Far more do not. Hiring is such an inexact science and documented cases of bad hires prompt many organizations to stretch out the process to find the perfect fit. Multiple interviews, challenging application processes, poor communication with the candidate during the interviews and other delays all lead to candidates losing interest or not generating enough interest. If hiring executives have more empathy for what the candidate is going through during a job change and recognizes it’s a candidate-driven market, they can fine-tune methods and win the hearts of better candidates.

5. How to fix hiring engineers: Failure to invest

Companies must face the reality that wage inflation is a real thing. It’s Economics 101 – supply and demand – and it’s dangerous to ignore it. The demand for talented engineers is at an all-time high, and the supply is low. Using the real estate analogy: Getting a house in a desirable neighborhood requires acting fast and paying a premium in a tight market. Without that, the house is gone. Complaining about the high cost of labor does not help. Consider extra compensation and an investment in the future.  Having top talent on the team in a thriving collaborative culture is priceless and worth the extra investment.

Take some time to evaluate company hiring practices, considering these factors and determining where improvements can be made. Even starting with small changes can give companies a leg up on the competition.

Gary Miller is president of Miller Resource Group. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: How to hire engineers, Hiring practices for engineers

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Miller Resource Group is a 50-year-old executive search firm with more than four decades of experience recruiting in the automation industry.


Gary Miller
Author Bio: Gary Miller is president of Miller Resource Group.