Monday, August 11, 2014

Who will be in demand in 2015?

For many engineering companies the focus over the last year or more has simply been to keep going, and to find the next project. Lately we have seen a significant increase in work among our clients, and everything points to us moving back toward a more prosperous engineering market.

A recent oil & gas industry report that we compiled indicated the vast majority of companies in that sector (within Australia) expected to increase their headcount across the next 12 months. Numerous civil infrastructure projects have been announced, bolstering the civil engineering and construction markets and, while some sectors continue to struggle, the civil consultancy and oil & gas areas look set for a prosperous year ahead.

So, what happens when the market picks up?

Over the last couple of years it has been much harder for new engineers to start their careers. This means that in the not too distant future there will be a shortage of less senior staff.

A senior manager within a large international civil consultancy recently told us that a few years ago they were competing with other companies at graduate fairs, and that graduates were fielding bids to secure their talents. More recently, following the downturn, they advertised a junior casual role and received almost 200 applications. It has been a tough time for engineering graduates of late, but improvement in market activity means that we are in danger of going back to that more competitive environment for juniors, with less juniors available than ever before.

Pre-downturn, there were simply not enough people graduating from engineering courses in Australia to fill demand. Migrant employment filled some of the gaps, but most companies still found themselves with a shortage of skilled engineers.

Throughout the downturn recruitment shifted toward more senior strategic hires, and those with lower levels of experience (and requiring high training costs) were not a priority for many. Staying in business today became the main focus, and the majority could not afford to take a longer term view of their talent pool.

However, once the storm has passed, there is then the danger that there are not enough lower level staff available, as many did not get hired and trained during the downturn, and therefore they have not worked (making them less appealing to a prospective employer), or they have worked in a different discipline (meaning that they may now be out of the industry for good, OR that they are at the level of 'new graduate' as they have no experience in their field). Engineers with 2-5 years experience will be very much in demand, and in very low supply.

How will companies find them? For the most part, they will need to import (which will be difficult, as other countries face similar issues), look to competitors where possible, use a more senior staff member to fill the gap (which is expensive), or train graduates from scratch (which is time consuming, and may not be possible depending on project demands).

It would be wise for those who are picking up projects to restart their graduate/ junior pipeline as early as possible, and for all to look at strategies for retaining junior staff as the market picks up and becomes more competitive.

We appear to be on the up again, and good planning is essential for managing the skills shortage once again.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It's not all about you

The other day I was walking around a local shopping centre. I didn't have a lot of time, and I had two small children with me who were making me very keen to finish up and go home as soon as humanly possible. I came across a pop-up sales booth that caught my eye, and I paused for a moment.

The booth was advertising solar panels for homes - something that I'd been considering installing in the future. The salesman eagerly hurried over, and asked if he could help me. The conversation that ensued went something like this.

Me: "I'm in a hurry, but do you have any literature that I could take away to read, please?"
Salesman: "No. We do NOT do that. We don't just have brochures. We are only interested in people who are serious about signing up now."
Me: "I am serious about getting solar panels, but I'm not sure when we will do it."
Salesman: "We like to come out to your home and sit down with you and talk it through properly."
Me: "That's great, but I'm not at that stage yet. Do you have a business card that I can take away, so that when I am I can give you a call?"
Salesman: (Now visibly irritated) "No! We do not do that! We want people who are really serious about doing this now."
Me: "Okay, well then I think I'll leave it for now. Incidentally - the government has now stopped the rebate for installation, hasn't it?"
Salesman: "No, that's not it at all. It's just changed. I can explain it to you, but not now. That would be something we would go over if we scheduled a meeting at your home."

I finished up the conversation and left, pausing only to make a mental note of the company name, so that I may avoid using them when I do get solar panels installed.

You may wonder why I am going to great lengths to tell you about my interesting excursion to the shopping centre.

It occurred to me that, as far as this particular company and sales team were concerned, they thought they were doing something different and displaying an attitude that differentiated themselves from their competitors.

Well, they were. But not in a good way.

When looking at what you can do differently, think about what things will excite your customer, and what things will make them smile. What product or service can you offer that will engage, surprise, or make them take note?

There is no sense in being different for the sake of being different if that isn't what your customer wants. And there is also no sense in implementing something that benefits your own company but puts your customer at a disadvantage.

Where the solar company is concerned, I can understand the thinking that would lead them to avoid leaflets and paraphernalia (which probably ends up in the bin, and is costly to produce - not to mention the obvious environmental impact), BUT not having anything at all to give someone who may be interested in contacting them at a later stage seems very short sighted to me. And to essentially refuse to talk to a potential customer because they aren't signing up on the spot comes across as aggressive and rude.

What does the solar company want? They want, I imagine, to stop time wasters from talking to them all day when they have no intention of signing up. They want to stop people taking their glossy expensive leaflets and throwing them in the bin. They want to convey the impression that they are serious about what they do and they want to engage with customers who are serious about signing up with them.

But what do their customers want? Their customers want to have something - anything - with the company's name, phone number, and website on it, so that they can later call them up and use their services. They want to meet someone pleasant and knowledgeable who will answer their questions. They want to feel that the company offering the service isn't just after their money, and won't drop them immediately if the person behind them in the queue is waving more dollar bills in the air.

And going back to the solar company, surely the bottom line is that they want to make sales and to be a profitable business. And if you alienate your customers at the outset then your odds of making those sales goes down. It strikes me that the solar business in question was only looking at their own wants, and not considering those of their potential customer base at all. And, in doing so, they are running the risk of fulfilling no one's wants - their own included.

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Year, New Start?

Now is the time when many of us begin to review what is important to us for the year ahead – we look at what worked well last year, and what things we want to change. Unsurprisingly, job change is one of the most popular objectives that we set for our New Year's resolutions.

So, what things do you need to consider when deciding if a new job is on the cards for you?

What's prompted you to think about this?

Going back to work after the Christmas break is not always the most enticing prospect, but if you're considering a career move then there is usually more to it to that. Sit down and write out all the things you love about your current job, and all the things that are making you want to move on. Now prioritise each of these things. What are the 'must haves' for your next job, and what things are not that big a deal? You might love the fact that your workplace has a gym, but it wouldn't keep you there, and nor would it be essential next time. However, the fact that you won't be promoted until your boss dies, or that you are based in a city a long way from loved ones, may be the kind of thing that simply has to change when you move jobs.

Can you change your current situation?

Some things can be resolved by talking to your current boss. Salary can be increased, departments changed, or contracts renegotiated. If you are generally happy with your job then it may be simpler to fix what you have rather than jump ship. However, make sure you are happy with the reasons why you are not currently receiving the things that you want, as if (for example) you are only offered a pay rise to stay, then you need to question why you weren't being paid more to start with – and also what extra expectations your boss will have of you now that you have become a bit more expensive.

Do you have support in moving jobs?

Moving jobs can be stressful, and it can mean a life upheaval – such as a relocation. Make sure you have discussed this with those who would also be affected by a move, and that they are on board with your decision too. Talk to people you can trust about your aspirations, and check that your expectations are realistic. A recruitment consultancy can be invaluable here, as they will have the inside scoop on what all the companies in your sector are offering, and can provide confidential advice at no cost to you.

Make a plan

Once you start looking for your next job, you may be surprised to find that everything starts moving very quickly. Interviews happen, an offer's on the table, and you only just decided to move on! When you apply for a role make sure you anticipate that an interview could follow swiftly. Get yourself in the right head space and understand that if you want to change jobs then there could be lots of opportunities for you very soon.

If you're thinking of moving on then we are here to help. Call us on 07 3107 2400, and one of our consultants will help guide you through the process, and ease the transition. Amongst all of this, don't lose sight of the fact that this is an exciting time, and an opportunity to make this a year to remember!  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When the competition speaks badly of you

What do you do when someone from another company spreads malicious rumours or tells outright lies about you to your clients?

Unfortunately it is a position that most of us have been in. The first thing to look at is why this is happening. Usually it means that your competitor is threatened by you, and therefore seeks to devalue you in order to get an advantage with your clients.

Some companies and individuals do this routinely, and will seize any opportunity to drop a negative remark about a competitor. "Oh, you're using Company X? I didn't realise they were still going after their managers left..."

Sometimes an individual will have a particular grievance against you or your company. Perhaps you outperformed them, perhaps you fell out, perhaps you fired them. Whatever the reason, sometimes it is personal.

It's horrible to find yourself on the receiving end of such behaviour. It can be hurtful, embarrassing, and it can have a very real impact on your business.

So what do you do when you become aware that a competitor has been saying bad things about you?

Look to the positives

They view you as important, because they are talking about you. This often means that you are currently being successful in what you do, and that you are relevant to them. If clients already thought badly of you then there would be no need for your competitor to bring you down.

It is likely that you found out about this because at least one of your clients confided in you. That means they respect you and trust you enough to tell you what is being said.

Your clients are not stupid. Lies can be insidious and cleverly delivered, but it is usually patently apparent to all when someone is trying to run down the competition. Think about it. If you were buying a car, and the sales person dropped a few clangers about another showroom, would you not know exactly what they were trying to do?

Some lies can be proved to be false. Things such as "John says your company will never work at that margin" or "John says your company is closing" are both things that will make John look pretty silly when you demonstrate that's not the case. John has now done you the double favour of helping your relationship with that client deepen (as you both have a chuckle about the situation) and made the client not trust the next thing that he says.

Get the facts

What is your competitor saying? Is there any truth to it? There is a difference between an opinion and defamation. If the lie is such that it damages your reputation and your credibility then you may well have legal recourse.

Make sure you have all the facts at hand in case you decide to follow this path. Document all information, keep written evidence or phone records, and make dated notes of any correspondence about the issue. You may decide not to bother pursuing legal action now, but that may change later - so act as if you will and keep the evidence at hand for when you decide to take action.

Make sure that you know exactly what has been said. It may not be enough if you have "John said you were a bit shady", but your case would definitely improve if you have "John said that you stole XYZ from Company X".

Decide what to do

If you have only just been made aware of a problem then you may shrug it off. However, if clients are repeatedly telling you of what your competitor is saying, or if the problem is such that it is harmful from the outset, you may need to take legal recourse to stop it.

Consult with a lawyer for further advice about your case if you decide to proceed.

You may, however, decide that - while distasteful - your competitor's gibes are unlikely to harm you or your business and, instead, may be working to discredit them in the industry. That being the case, you may decide that legal action is unnecessary. It may still be worth discussing with a lawyer, to ensure there is nothing you have overlooked.

Dealing with the issue without a lawyer

So, someone tells you that a competitor has said something bad about you or your business. How do you react? If you have never encountered this situation then take a moment to think, as when it happens you are likely to feel shocked, upset, flustered, and defensive.

Take a deep breath. The best recourse you have is to address the issue head on, in a calm and professional manner. It's okay to let the client (or person in question) see that you are shocked and upset. This is a very normal response, and one which helps show your client that the allegations are false.

Ask for clarification. Ask exactly what was said, by whom, when, and in what context. Write it down. If you have a good relationship with the client, and you feel it appropriate, ask them to put that in an email or letter to you. You will keep all records of such things in case you need them in the future.

Address the point at hand. If the rumour is that the company is going under/ no longer operational then, assuming that is false, say that it is untrue. If you suspect why your competitor is saying such a thing (e.g., you made someone - possibly even them - redundant) then explain this to your client, but reiterate that it is not true.

If the claim is outlandish, and bears no relation to truth, then tell your client so. Explain that you have no idea why your competitor would have said that, but there is no foundation for it.

If the client wants to talk about it then be open and honest. To say 'no comment' can look suspicious. However, do not stoop to your competitor's level in engaging in a war of words. Never say anything negative about your competitors, nor infer anything negative. Things like "John only says I stole something because he's been thieving from the company for months" or "Well, I guess business can't be good for him, so he has to come out with this stuff" won't win you any favours.

Don't give your detractors the time of day. Don't talk about them, and don't be seen to be giving them any value at all. They are, quite simply, not worth your time or energy.

The most important thing now is to build on the relationship you have with your client (and others). If one has heard something then others probably have too. Make sure you are talking to them often and that your relationships are good. People are much less likely to believe false accusations about people they know than those they don't.

And keep doing the good job that you must already be doing for everyone to be talking about you!

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's not that hard

I'm not sure when recruiters began to feel as if we had to be perfect. It's a problem endemic to most sales roles, and can leave us feeling as if we have to always say the right thing, and always promise the earth to our clients and our candidates.

That's great when we deliver on those promises, but most of the time we simply can't or don't, and that leaves everyone feeling a bit sour about the whole experience.

There are lots of things that we can do to make others like us and want to do business with us. However, a lot of it boils down to just one thing.

Do what you say you will.

That's it. That's all most people want. Most people want to feel that they can rely on you to deliver what you say you will, and to be honest and transparent in your communication. That may sound like 2 separate points, but it's all wrapped up in the same thing.

If you have promised your client that you will deliver something and then - for whatever reason - you can't, you need to make sure you are continuing to tell them what you will (or now won't) be doing.

Sure, they may not be happy with you, but they will be a lot less happier with you if you fail to deliver and then sidle out of the back door without so much as an explanation.

Unfortunately, this scenario is one we see time and time again in recruitment. Our candidates tell us that their biggest bugbear with recruiters is that we get their hopes up and then we just disappear. We don't return their calls, we don't tell them what happened, and we effectively just sidle out of the door. (And please note here that by 'we' I mean a generic 'we' - the recruitment industry at large - rather than this being my confessional of poor practice.)

We don't do what we have said. If you say you will ring someone at 5pm, then ring them at 5pm. It doesn't matter if you thought you would have news for them and don't, or if someone more interesting and more placeable comes up. If you said you would do it then do it.

If you tell your client that you will find them someone and then discover that you can't, tell them so. Call them up, or meet up in person, and say that you have undertaken the work but not been successful. Don't leave them wondering what happened to you, or why they spent so long giving you all that information for you to just disappear.

Yes, it's a horrible conversation to have, but it's vital. Your client will hold you in higher regard for fronting up and confessing that you can't help them, than they will if you go AWOL and then contact them a month or so later, hoping they've forgotten (they haven't).

It's a simple principle, and it's one most of us apply without needing to think about in our personal lives. Most of us don't arrange to meet a friend and then not turn up, or tell a partner we will pick up the milk and then hide from them for a few days rather than tell them we forgot. Sometimes we cannot do what we said we would do, and if that happens then we need to communicate that to those who are waiting to hear what we've done.

The best option is to avoid raising people's expectations too high in the first place. Don't tell your client that you will have a candidate for them by the end of the hour/ day/ week. Tell them that you will endeavour to have someone for them, that you will be working on their role, that you will prioritise their work - and that you will talk to them again later today/ tomorrow/ by Friday to review where you are up to.

Don't tell your candidate that you will have something for them. Tell them that you will come back to them at a certain point to talk about where you are up to.

And then diarise those calls and make them.

Doing what you say you will do doesn't mean achieving everything that is expected of you. It means managing those expectations to make them something that you are more likely to be able to deliver.

It's not about being perfect. It's about being realistic, open, and honest. People have respect for those things, and can tolerate mistakes or failures to deliver (which, let's face it, are things we all experience sometimes) if they know that  you are doing the things you said you would.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Well, you know what I mean

At this time of year we get to hear a lot of messages, such as the Christmas message, the Chairman’s message, seemingly endless messages from politicians, and so on, and that led us to wonder about messages and what they actually mean.  And whether what they mean, when they start their life with the speaker, actually is the same as when they have penetrated the ears of the listener.  So often that does not seem to be the case and, if we are right, that means an awful lot of miscommunication is going on with, in many cases, some quite important information.

Part of this subject has already been covered in our blog ‘Communication – or is it?’.  In that article we looked at some of the physical steps you can take to facilitate communication, and here we will try to look at some of the psychological aspects arising, and see if there are techniques to help eliminate any distortions or misconceptions arising.

Consider, for example, the Chairman’s message.  Generally delivered annually, this is a personal statement from the very top of the Company stating the vision for the Company and its future over, say, the next 12 months.  It will be grand (sometimes grandiose) in its sweep, it can be defensive (“we want to maximise our share price to fight off a take-over bid”), or positive (“we want to secure 50% of the world’s share of X by this time next year”) but it will (or should be) aspirational and designed to motivate the troops into battle.

Unfortunately, it is so often the case that the message is given by someone who, financially and by experience, has nothing whatsoever in common with the more junior employees of the company, and so there is no way in which they can share in the dream of the Chairman.  These are examples of two different worlds that will never collide.

Nonetheless, the Chairman’s message is vital – the Company must have a purpose to aim at – and so a mechanism has to be found to translate the Chairman’s dream into one which all workers can share.

When creating this mechanism, which will be slightly different for every person because the mechanism needs to adjust for the quirks of every person involved in it, a useful starting point is to assume that people, generally, will find a way to distort the message you are trying to convey.  Not on purpose, necessarily, but because the brain likes to take shortcuts to help it to manipulate and sort data.  Those shortcuts may well not be the same ones that your brain took when you formulated the message, and so the result of the data sorting that takes place might lead to different information retrieval in the brain of the recipient. 

In addition, you cannot assume that your words of wisdom are so riveting as to prevent a listener’s attention from wandering, or being distracted by personal issues, or their immediate environment, or a flippant comment from the person next to them, or a thousand other matters that could take their attention away from you.

Anyway, even supposing that your employee does listen with 100% attention to the message.  What is he or she, personally, going to do to hold up the company’s share price, or attain a 50% stake in X for the company?  The Chairman’s goal simply has no personal relevance to that employee, nor is it within their ability to achieve.

So the way to deal with this is to disseminate the Chairman’s message through descending tiers of the organisation, with each tier hearing the message but also receiving a further ‘message’, aimed just at them, with their group’s goal for the 12-month (or whatever) period – something that is achievable, that can be seen to contribute toward the company goal, and that they can rally behind.

Now, the ‘macro’ problem of the message has become a ‘micro’ problem, in the sense that you are dealing with a much smaller number of people and the members of the group are much more closely aligned with each other – they are likely to work in the same area as each other, have similar or complementary skill sets, etc.  The leader of the group may well be the senior member of the team and if so he or she has to carry a personnel function as well as their day-to-day function.  This will require specific training if the job is to be done properly.  Such a person will need to be able to identify the various personality types present within the group (e.g., a Myers-Briggs Type assessment) and use the resulting data to create productive teams whilst minimising destructive or destabilising influences.  They will also be able to ‘sense the wind’ and identify, and deal with, nascent problems before they develop.

But by careful talking to people on a one-to one basis you can sometimes become aware of cases where a person is preoccupied with internal issues to the extent that they cannot hear an outside voice clearly, or they seem to be reacting inappropriately to a message, which may indicate that they have some emotional problem that is nothing to do with work but which is having a big effect on them.  And then there is the person with their own personal agenda, who can’t or won’t hear anything that doesn’t give them some personal advantage.  Or, even worse, it appears to give some advantage to someone else.  Such a person will not only not hear the message, but may try to sabotage it – they need to be handled carefully, and very firmly.

Some practical steps that can be taken are as follows:
  • Whilst giving the message, try to do this in short bursts if possible.  Human attention span tends to be quite short, often only 5 or 10 minutes during speeches, and if you can inject a question or two every so often, or even a joke, this switches brains back on again (well, for a bit, anyway).
  • Keep your sentences short.  Longer ones are subject to misinterpretation, especially the longer they are (mis)remembered.  Try asking a group of people to say the sentence “I’m not saying he didn’t hit my cat” a number of times, but stressing a different word in the sentence each time. See what we mean?!
  • Always use the language that is appropriate to the group.  Use jargon to the extent that it relates to the job, and try to speak on the same level as your audience.  Simpler is always better, and don’t forget those for whom English is not their main language.
  • Once you have given the message to the group, go round the individual members of the group, check that they have understood what you have said, what is expected of them as an individual, and ask if they have any questions or comments arising.  If so, you must deal with these as soon as possible.
  • You have to keep reinforcing/checking the message with the group members.  Why?  Because the human brain is always trying to complete its current store of information on the basis of the data it has to date, i,e,  incomplete data.  So there is an innate tendency to half-listen to what is said, and then act as if we had all the information.  We do this, of necessity, when driving, and sometimes we have to in the workplace – which is why you need to ensure that all members are regularly brought back on track.
  • Be careful to appear neutral or pleasant when you go to see the group members.  If you don’t, one or more of them will assume that you’re in a bad mood, probably with them, and their ’threat mode’ will be invoked.  You then have a high psychological hill to climb before you can communicate effectively with them.

Finally, it might be a good idea to check that you fully understand what you’re trying to convey.  This will make it much easier for you to get the message across!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Skye Recruitment at APPEA

Skye Recruitment has had its inaugural exhibited at the APPEA conference.  APPEA showcases the best of the Oil & Gas industry and Skye is proud to have contributed to this great event.

Of particular success were our glowing YoYos which saw a large number of people reliving their youth with demonstrations of "Walking the Dog", "Round the World" and "Cradle the Baby".  A particular acknowledgement needs to go to QGC and Origin who fielded the best YoYo Champions of the event.