Put simply, succession planning means putting in place actions to ensure the future growth of your company by making sure there is someone available to fill key roles should the need arise. Unfortunately, while 86 per cent of leaders believe this is an ‘important’ priority, only 14 per cent believe they are covering this basis effectively. Within engineering, we have a widely reported skills shortage – it was recently recommended that the UK shortage occupation list (SOL) be expanded to include more technical roles, particularly in engineering.
In many cases the term succession planning is thought to apply to senior level roles, with the focus being on providing a replacement for company CEOs and founders. However, in this sector, there is a real need to focus on hiring across the board. It has become just as important to ensure a contingency plan when experienced, mid-level workers with detailed technical knowledge leave the company or retire.
What are the challenges for companies?
There are many specialist roles
Each engineering discipline is very different from the other. The requirements for an electrical, mechanical, chemical or software engineer will vary greatly, and often companies will have their own specific requirements. All of this makes finding a technical specialist in 3D printing, robotics or aerodynamics harder to source. Although companies may employ several engineers, each of these employees could be doing a very different job, focusing on areas which are distinctive from each other and require a separate set of skills. In fact, for some small and medium sized businesses, a single employee could be the only person with expertise in that area.
It takes years to develop specialist skills
Most engineers are highly qualified. As well as a degree, many graduates may choose to become a chartered engineer (CEng) or incorporated engineer (IEng). Not only this, but developing the skills to complete complex, precise tasks may take years of training. Consider, for example, the knowledge required for a software engineer. Typically, we might be looking for more than three years spent programming PLC systems from scratch – and that’s just the start. Given the level of education and practical experience needed, it’s easy to see why, in an era of record high employment, this type of candidate might be hard to come by.
A growth in demand for highly skilled workers
New technologies are continually shaping the workforce. According to Engineering UK, an ‘increasing fusion between digital, physical and biological’ will continue to drive demand for highly skilled engineers. Just think about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how a growing network of connected products will necessitate the need for a growing number of engineers with suitable digital skills. Not only this, but the same report predicts that there will be less call for low-skilled roles, which can be automated by robotics in the future. If these types of employees are already hard to find, this points to a clear argument for succession planning early on.
What can organisations do?
Invest in the right skills early on
Developing a talent pipeline is the best way to futureproof your business. If you’re finding it challenging to recruit experienced workers, consider developing a training programme which will take on entry-level employees and equip them with the necessary skills and experience needed. By hiring just one or two new people a year and showing them the ropes, you’ll avoid an emergency situation where you have just a month to find a new member of staff. Better still, if you take on an apprentice, you won’t have to create your own programme – your local college or training body can work with you to create a scheme of work tailored to business needs.
Consider reverse mentoring
Reverse mentoring is all about pairing a junior member of the team with someone more senior. The idea is that more experienced employees can share their knowledge, passing on valuable insights and skills. Not only this, but new workers have someone they can look up to, a person whose role they can aspire to fill once they’ve learnt what’s necessary. This is a great way to give your staff a clear development route, setting out the path they need to take in order to progress. However, as the name suggests, reverse mentoring also works the other way – senior employees can also learn from juniors who may have picked up new industry insights and trends on recent training courses.
Be willing to discuss handovers
When a member of staff reaches retirement age, they may choose to carry on working for several years. It’s best not to assume that they’ll leave straight away, but an honest and open discussion with employees can help you to plan ahead. If, for example, you know that you have someone finishing work next year, why not talk about how they can start handing over their work? By acknowledging the valuable skills they’ve built up over time, you can also start a conversation which asks for their advice and help to identify people internally who might be suitable to step into the role.
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