Investing in People to Enhance your Business

The heating and ventilation industry has traditionally found it difficult to attract new engineering talent, but it now faces a distinct skill shortage which must be addressed.

There is no single root cause, but rather a combination of factors which have contributed to the situation over a number of years. Some fault lies within the industry, with a historical lack of investment in engineering skills, and a dwindling interest nationally in construction work as a career path.

The financial crash of 2008 also played a part, with many businesses having no choice but to reduce their workforce. These reductions and redundancies carved layers of experience and skills out of the industry, and the effects have been tangible; not only is it difficult to attract new people, but it is even harder to attract the right people, those with the skills and experience required.


Air conditioning of buildings


The industry itself is changing, of course. There is a continued focus on the importance of economic considerations, as well as a steady drive for offsite construction. This increased a demand for innovation, to create products that not only perform their function to the highest standard, but are enhanced by ease of transport and installation.

The development of more sophisticated control systems is also driving change, encouraging a shift from a specialist, ‘silo’ mentality to a solution-based approach. Systems are being designed as an interconnecting whole from the outset, rather than as a series of products linked together at the end of the process.

This shift is not exclusive to our industry; there is a need across the board to embrace creativity and innovation on both product and working approach, and encourage it in staff from the very outset of their careers.

Experience vs Education

When there is a demand in the business to recruit a more senior engineering role, the most common choice laid before an employer is between a seasoned, more experienced engineer, whose track record puts them in the driver’s seat in an employee’s market, or a newly qualified graduate, who has received extensive, up to date training but is looking for an opportunity to gain experience.


Engineer and architect discussing about blueprint


The idea of a graduate can be something of a double-edged sword; on one hand, employing a graduate in a role guarantees you a benchmark of knowledge and training, but on the other there is a lack of “coal-face” experience and the resultant knowledge that can only be gained in the role. This difference of know-how can cause a negative perception of graduates within a business, and if it is not correctly managed, can in turn potentially impact cooperation between teams.

Cultivating an understanding of the particulars of their work

Acknowledging both the skill shortage within the industry and the potential for graduates to address it, Ability, a division of GDHV, created a new Engineering Graduate scheme which began in November 2017. This scheme takes on students immediately after graduation and places them into a bespoke, in-house training programme. It was seen as an opportunity to embrace new talent and mould it for the benefit of both business and individual.

Rather than drop a new graduate directly into a role for which they may not be truly prepared, the scheme exposes engineering graduates to all areas of the business, starting with a placement among the workers on the shop floor and proceeding through every function and department. This approach gives the graduate hands-on experience of the lifecycle of a product, as well as an overarching awareness of how all elements of the business contribute to the creation of that product. This in turn promotes a forward-thinking attitude, with a beginning to end understanding that decisions made often impact on multiple departments and processes. Therefore it is critical that we facilitate a holistic view.

These placements also allow the engineering graduates to build relationships with other members of the business, which can have future benefits for all concerned. Demonstrable familiarity with the different areas of the business can help to alleviate the perception that graduates have a lot of training but a lack of practical experience, and foster a more cohesive environment.


Construction engineers discussion with architects


Ability has seen tangible benefits from its Engineering Graduate scheme, with members progressing from their original roles into all aspects of the business. This investment in people naturally results in greater dedication and even loyalty from staff members. Some may stay for a few years and move on, but as yet those who have participated in the scheme have found their immediate career aspirations met within the business. Our aim is to ensure a continued programme of development to retain our talent for the long haul.

With the Ability Engineering Graduate scheme, we are able to support the important task of replacing lost skills within our industry and beyond, but more importantly we can do so in a way that is rewarding and beneficial to both our business and our employees.