As new orders flood in, atttracting and retaining experienced workers becomes ever more vital

Steve McGuckin

After several years stuck in what seemed like permafrost, it’s springtime for the construction industry.

Official figures show that while construction output is creeping up, new orders are flooding in. The industry’s pipeline in the second quarter of 2013 was up nearly a third on the same time last year.

Such surging demand is a welcome respite after some painfully lean years, but it’s not without its problems. Chief among them is the looming risk of a skills shortage.

The construction industry shed more than a million jobs in the downturn, and the number of new entrants fell. According to BIS, the number of young people starting apprenticeships in construction tumbled 14.6% in one year alone.

Staff engagement and motivation are key to keeping your best people, but contrary to popular belief, it’s not always all about the money

So as those new orders come on stream, there is a real danger of a skills gap. Many firms are already actively recruiting in preparation. Experienced, skilled staff are in great demand.

As a result, skill retention has become a hot topic for many consultancies.

Staff engagement and motivation are key to keeping your best people, but contrary to popular belief, the evidence shows it’s not always all about the money.

Sir Digby Jones, former head of the CBI, had an interesting approach. He advocated a technique called QED, after the acronym which mathematicians write with a satisfied flourish on solving an equation (Quod Erat Demonstrandum – that which was to be proved). Sir Digby applied QED in a different way; Q for the quality of the work you do, E for the environment/culture in which you work and D for the dosh you get.

The relative emphasis a person puts on each factor depends on their individual personality and what stage they are at in life.

It’s a good rule of thumb that can save managers a lot of time in form-filling and beating about the bush. Ask your team members how they see the relative balance between the three variables, in terms of where they believe they are now and where they want to be.

For the employee it’s a useful way of moving towards achievable, personalised goals. For you as a leader, you need to remember they are not there yet. In the words of the London Underground mantra, ‘mind the gap!’

Steve McGuckin is UK managing director of Turner & Townsend