Beating the senior skills drain in construction with smart recruiting

Friday, January 19, 2018

What really matters when hiring at senior level?

When doing searches at a certain level of seniority, it’s important to look beyond the CV. In technical roles having the right qualifications is obviously important, but in terms of management skills, strategy, business and communication acumen and company culture, being a good fit is vital.

 These latter attributes have become difficult to find in an industry that has suffered from lack of investment in skills training and professional development. These abilities generally develop with experience, which is noticeably short in current times.

To find this sort of candidate, a recruiter must have a full understanding of your company and its culture. Then through rigorous research and a thorough assessment process, they can pick the candidates that best match the role and the culture, while striving to improve diversity at the top level of construction management at the same time.

Getting the candidate’s culture and fit right entails getting up close and personal in the recruiting process. It’s also about hard research, data, using networks, speaking to potential candidates and the people who know them. Timing plays a crucial role, knowing when to involve the client and brief the candidate and keeping the flow of information at the right tempo. It’s a process that can’t be rushed from the client’s viewpoint, as the future success of the company could depend on this decision. Negotiations and discussions, especially at the end of the process can be extremely delicate, a positive outcome could even depend on the adaptation of the job title to suit the candidate’s preference. 

 A careful balancing act

A good professional recruiter understands the importance of managing a client’s and candidate’s expectations during the recruiting process. If mismanaged this could impact in the marketplace with negative repercussions for a company’s reputation. Even if you must reject a candidate, by managing the process professionally and sensitively, a company’s reputation remains unsullied in an already difficult market.

 When the right candidate is found and hired, brand value can increase as your company gains a positive reputation for the high calibre of people joining. This kind of feedback has a way of travelling by word of mouth in a small industry; people share intelligence about how companies are growing and who the new team members are, which enable its development. Companies can also champion their latest star recruit through their own marketing and press relations campaigns.

Solutions to an industry problem

The construction sector would benefit greatly from collaborating more closely with the government and education sector to ensure that the next generation of skilled construction personnel is being trained. Currently, 22% of the workforces are in their 50s or 60s. What we are looking at is a field exacerbated by too many people retiring, and not enough entering the sector to replace them.

 Over the last decade, as a direct consequence of a challenging economic climate, the construction industry cut training and has experienced the haemorrhaging of a significant proportion of the workforce. The gap was temporarily filled by skilled foreign workers, however, as we face the uncertainty of Brexit, this short-term solution needs to be addressed more thoroughly with a long-term plan, as we are now faced with the possibility of losing or limiting the input of these EU workers.

 In the meantime, astute recruiting, driven by accurate data capture about both client and candidate, will have to seek out the hidden talent the industry needs to ride the skills shortage storm. Companies are looking for skills that go beyond the technical, but require individuals with endurance, creativity and problem-solving abilities, among the principal requirements. Sometimes those qualities are found in unexpected places, and other times in individuals right under your nose. Good detective work by an experienced recruiter will determine which.


The Metzger team experienced this construction industry challenge first hand while collaborating with their client Dan Germann, Regional Managing Director of Keepmoat Regeneration, on their search for a Financial Director.

It was quite clear that the current state of the market was influencing their candidate preferences. While they didn’t have a specific candidate in mind, they knew what type of person they needed for the job and this is where Metzger was needed to execute the search.

Dan realised that there was an industry skills drain at senior level. Attracting high calibre, experienced directors, was going to be particularly difficult for Keepmoat Regeneration’s brand, which was still quite a new player on the scene. The company has experienced healthy growth, and their portfolio of construction project values grew from £5m to over £25m within two years.

Dan knew that finding senior operational candidates with all the attributes he wanted would be like seeking gold dust. The normal modes of attraction weren’t going to work, such as: 

  • Website advertising

  • Regular agencies

  • Social media

Turning to experienced professional recruiters with expertise in senior appointments was Keepmoat Regeneration’s next strategic course of action. It was a non-negotiable tactic to help them find someone who could navigate the company through this important growth spurt.

The main priority was finding someone with the right fit into the company culture, this would underpin their final choice. Overall however, they sought someone with:

Technical expertise – a crucial aspect of the job description but it’s usually quite an easy criterion to fulfil.

  • Ability to fit into the company culture - the biggest challenge to meet but the most desired: does the candidate have integrity, professionalism, client management skills? 

  • Focus and commitment to take the long-term journey beyond the size of the business at the time, to where they wanted to go in future - a candidate who wouldn’t get bored during the growth process, even though they may be ‘over’ qualified. They had to be in it for the long game. Finding that person can take months, during a  possibly difficult process, but they needed to be a visionary to enable growth.

  • A candidate able to work and communicate with colleagues from every part of the company - someone with sound relationship building skills.

Relationship building to make the right choice

A strong professional relationship between Metzger and Keepmoat Regeneration was an essential factor to achieve a successful search and hire for the Financial Director.

Dan Germann, Keepmoat Regeneration, and James Flew, Metzger, had worked together on previous recruitment collaborations and as Dan said, “It helped that James and I had already formed a strong relationship, we weren’t reinventing the wheel.” He continued, “when I first met James, we were rebuilding the business and addressing certain management issues. We wanted to create a platform for a new solid business plan. We wouldn’t normally use a head hunter but it was vital to bring the right people in to achieve our business aspirations. James had the expertise to do the legwork in the market to make sure we succeeded. Now he’s helping us with the next stage in continuity.”

James ensured that Dan gave him a thorough brief. He asked the right questions to extract the relevant information that would provide a complete profile of the type of individual sought. From this, James could produce a long list of potential candidates and together in close consultation with the client, this list would be shortened.  The search also entailed gleaning informal reference-taking from the candidates’ past customers, clients, or colleagues to glean another dimension about their personality. Overall this was fundamentally a joint effort between recruitment consultant and client.

James knew that in construction there’s a tendency to use people who understand the market and the sector. Bringing in a financial director from a different sector would have been unusual but certainly considered. As it turned out, Mike Lethaby, the chosen candidate, had a construction background but from a different segment of the construction sector.

 The candidate’s perspective

James Flew and Dan Germann’s collaboration on the rigorous and thorough search and selection resulted in the appointment of Mike Lethaby as Keepmoat Regeneration’s Financial Director.

 The search and selection process is not just about the clients’ perspectives, but it is also very important to manage the relationship with the prospective candidate during the process. 

Mike’s appointment was a complex and lengthy process, as Dan Germann wanted to be sure that he was picking the right person to fit with Keepmoat Regeneration. Mike recalled, “One of the best things about the process was that James was able to see the fit between myself and Dan’s personalities. As we would be working together that was a crucial mix.”

He continued, “Even though the selection process was long, I fully appreciated that James skilfully managed my concerns during those months, constantly gave me key and new information, as well as being able to see that I was the right match for the role. Being a good fit seemed to be a high priority.”

From number crunching to financial storytelling

It seems that Finance professionals are still ‘pigeon-holed’ according to the sector in which they work. However, sound financial and accounting skills are transferable and can be applied to any business. Mike offered his insights on challenges when recruiting for finance roles, “In accountancy and finance there are generally two routes to career progression: do your ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification and join the industry or, study in-practice at a firm of chartered accountants, get qualified and leave to work elsewhere.

Either way, the pool of talent at junior levels is strong but the challenge is to groom them from being pure accountants to being finance professionals who are able to interpret the numbers in a way that is helpful to the Finance Director and make joint strategic decisions.”