Top tips on managing bigger engineering teams

Winning larger contracts is big business for SMEs but is not without its hurdles. We explore how growing businesses can embrace the challenge.

A major contract is a turning point for a small business, particularly in a sector such as engineering or technology. The prospect of a pipeline of work over a multi-year contract means guaranteed revenue and profit that can be invested back into the business on new staff, tools and business development. 

But while it’s cause for celebration, it can also present a challenge in terms of finding and retaining the right skills. The market for skills in engineering is already challenging: the Institute of Engineering and Technology found that 49% of companies in the sector experienced difficulties with the lack of skills available. Half said this caused difficulty recruiting and 47% said it made recruitment timelines longer.  

Mhari-Claire Doolan, Business Manager at Progressive Recruitment, has supported several clients to overcome these challenges. Taking a trusted partner approach means she can help customers to adapt processes so they can reduce their time to hire without lowering the quality of talent recruited. With a recent client, she worked with them to remove the requirement for an initial interview for a particular role, instead asking candidates for references and proof of qualifications upfront. “We get two references from each candidate before they start – this is more important when there is no interview. In such a competitive market, it’s the only way we can get the volume of candidates,” she explains. “The interview process can add a week on, so this means we can now start five to 10 contractors a week.”

Support on site 

The next hurdle is bringing new recruits up to speed. Having a recruiter on site helps iron out any early problems, such as issues with shift patterns or paperwork. “It’s all about aftercare and monitoring, so we can deal with any issues and not let them snowball,” adds Doolan. With candidates in short supply, finding replacement contractors will cost time and money, so it is important to make sure they are happy and engaged. “We hold the managers’ hands too, meeting with them and having consistent reviews, alongside candidate feedback. If a candidate does decide to leave, we listen to what they have to say,” she says. 

One of the longer-term challenges of resourcing multi-year contracts is building a talent pipeline. It may be tempting for a growing business to focus solely on hitting targets and meeting client demands, but thinking about workforce planning in one, two or even five years’ time means an organisation can anticipate skills needs in advance. In a fast-moving sector like STEM, many businesses choose to hire for attitude and be flexible about skills requirements, as these can often be met through training. Roles will change and evolve quickly in this market too, so it pays to be open-minded about the exact experience required or companies run the risk of shutting off potential candidates. 

With STEM clients, Progressive has worked with industry training partners in the past to find newly qualified candidates. Another strategy is to monitor teams of contractors who are due to finish other projects and regularly ask candidates to refer friends and colleagues. Working closely with clients on their employer value proposition can also make the difference in a candidate-driven market. With some clients, this has prompted discussions about changing shift patterns or adapting their employee benefits to include support with travel or accommodation. “We have to think outside the box sometimes, working with qualifications companies or placing multiple people who are finishing a contract at the same time,” adds Doolan. 

New talent sources

Finding fresh talent in a fast-moving sector is hard work but presents a huge opportunity to look at more diverse sources of candidates and think about how skills can be transferred from one role to another. “In some industries, such as nuclear, you might not get a perfect match but candidates realise they have transferable skills, and so it’s opened up avenues for a lot of people and become a lot more diverse.” Research shows there is room for growth in STEM recruitment – in engineering, for example, women make up just 14.5% of the workforce, while less than a tenth are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. Apprenticeships and the new T-level industry-focused qualifications are another avenue to explore when planning for the future. 

Bringing on board and managing a growing team of contractors can feel like a rollercoaster, but by listening to candidates’ needs and taking a flexible approach with skills and experience, it doesn’t have to be a bumpy ride. 


We have access to a diverse pool of talent and are experienced in partnering with clients to provide further support. Find out more today. 


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