We need to get more sophisticated in how we recruit construction professionals - let’s ditch the random CV trawl in favour of focused data analysis

Richard Steer 2014

At the moment, the recruitment drive in the consultancy sector is bearing remarkable resemblance to the bi-yearly transfer window that faces Premiership football clubs. The role of agents, or in our case head hunters, is paramount with all and sundry seemingly punting their talented professionals in an effort to persuade us that these men and women have the skillset, experience and track record to transform our businesses.

They are not wrong. Everyone needs good people and there is a shortage of them out there, at the moment. However I wonder whether there is not a more sophisticated way of capturing these constructions professionals than ploughing through a mound of CV’s and emails sent by random or retained recruiters who are the modern and arguably necessary equivalent of talent traffickers.

To resume the football analogy I have the pleasure and sometimes the pain of supporting Southampton football club. Some time ago, as a club with a limited budget but boundless ambition, they started to employ a system of talent spotting which became known as the black box.

I wonder whether there is not a more sophisticated way of capturing these constructions professionals than ploughing through a mound of CV’s and emails sent by random or retained recruiters

In their new training facility one of the most important locations in the building is the recruitment and analysis room. It is here where you will find Southampton’s “black box”, a room where matches and prospective signings from leagues around the world are analysed extensively on a video screen that has the mystique and reputation that it could store all of the world’s secrets. Before all you non-believers scoff, Southampton was the breeding ground for the most expensive player in the world, Gareth Bale, plus England and Arsenal star Theo Walcott amongst others.

The player profiling is bespoke to Southampton and according to the club their aim is to try to align recruitment with the organisations philosophy. It’s important for instance that players play in the system and manner demanded by the manager and the coaching staff. It’s not every player who can play in the required style. Apparently they look for the best fit for the team as a whole when they put together their recruitment targets.

Returning to the world of the construction consultant, project manager or cost manager, I wonder whether we should all employ the black box philosophy and make our choice of candidate more process driven. Everyone says they use psychometric tests, client referencing and rigorous CV analysis before selecting a senior project manager or head of sector, but from my experience it often comes down to the person’s reputation in the marketplace, how they gelled at the interview and an examination of shared expectations. All sensible - but is it scientific?

Perhaps we should review key project data attained over the career of the potential candidate. What is the average length of time any given project went over schedule over their working life or the average tenure of team members who have worked for that individual during the construction phase of any given project. Most importantly, a thorough examination of any cost overruns. We are hiring an individual but how much of their stellar success and track record is down to them and how much is down to their team? Like football, you have to have people who can gel as a unit to get the most on behalf of the client.

Based on this kind of data we could have our own black box facility where we track talent as they join and leave rival consultancies. When the moment is right we can swoop down and make them an offer they can’t refuse.

This may all seem a little over the top and I agree that being a footballer is not like being a property or construction consultant. However talent spotting is vital for long term business growth in whatever sphere you work. Players are assets as are our staff and there surely has to be a more sophisticated approach to hiring top talent than a CV, a meeting and a haggle, followed by a pint down the pub to clinch the deal.

Our job as consultants is to de-risk projects as much as possible. Employing a black box philosophy may give everyone a little more confidence.

Richard Steer is chairman of Gleeds Worldwide