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Tuesday, 04 December 2012 00:00

The Backbone - Construction World Featured

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In the current scenario, where every sector is reeling under some sort of slowdown, business houses are treading with caution, with major expansion plans on hold and no drastic measures or ventures on the anvil. Taking a leaf from the adage, 'Tough times do not last, tough people do', there is really no better time to focus on a basic, yet crucial function: HR.

With the construction segment being one of the largest employers, HR assumes a crucial role. Adding to the challenge is the mixed nature - both white and blue-collared - of the workforce. However, the HR function in this segment is still not given its due importance; it is usually confined to the back seat, assuming the role of a mere administrative and recruitment function. In reality, it goes well beyond and requires a real go-getter and proactive manager at the helm who is capable of aligning the goals of the organisation with those of its employees. Let's examine the various challenges faced by organisations, and ways to deal with them.

Recruitment

Although the number of engineering colleges has increased profusely, the search for the right candidate is still a challenge. Quantity and quality have not been in direct proportion. Over-reliance on testing techniques while ignoring the holistic approach of collectively assessing abilities with human intervention further complicates the matter. All testing tools should only be used as an indicator and not the final criterion for selection of a candidate. Owing to the seasonal, project-driven and remote nature of the job, where sizeable time has to be spent on site, hiring becomes more challenging. As the most important resource in this sector is invariably people, it is all the more crucial to get the right combination of manpower to guide and execute the project. Unfortunately, owing to the nature of the construction industry, very few bright minds opt to join the industry, resulting in a further talent crunch.

Case in point

In a leading real-estate firm, there was a lot of emphasis on testing methodology in isolation. Test results were given too much emphasis and they dominated and even overruled the findings of the personal evaluation. As a result, the company was unable to fill many senior-level positions easily. When we analysed the situation, we found there was no human intervention and the test results were not used as supplemental feedback, which would have been ideal, but used as the deciding criterion instead. We made our client understand that various psychometric test results are affected by different factors that could influence the result, like the mood of the candidate and the time of taking the test. Hence, the results ought to be used in conjunction with the personal interview to arrive at a holistic decision. The client was open to our suggestion and it worked out to be a win-win situation. Some candidates who would have been rejected otherwise have proved to be assets to the organisation.

Induction

This is a point that is usually not taken seriously or done as a perfunctory. Rather than a blitzkrieg of PowerPoint presentations, induction should be more of a personal interaction with an overview about the company or services. No job or information on products and services can be learned effectively in a three to five-day induction process; it requires on-the-job training. With the growing economy and various entrepreneurs entering the construction foray, the idea of induction seems to have been totally lost; even established companies do not take it seriously at times. The following points must be kept in mind for the induction process:

  • It has to be time-bound and open-ended.
  • It should give an overview of the management, the organisation's vision and mission, and its services and products.
  • Suggestion and feedback should be encouraged in an open forum and not in terms of close-ended feedback.
  • Last but not the least; induction definitely needs to be there!

Case in point

Amongst the first few clients we acquired, a start-up company with a staff of around 50 people was apprehensive about conducting an induction programme, fearing it was a waste of time and money. As there was no induction, different functions were working in silos, totally unaware of their own product line and the various functions existing in their company. Most candidates were not even aware of the genesis of the company or the vision and mission it aspired to. We brought this to the notice of the management and it agreed to see things differently; the results were highly encouraging. Aspects unseen earlier, like team-bonding, working towards an organisational goal, cross-selling services, interaction amongst peers, and motivation because of clarity of thought, were now seamlessly being disseminated. The gist: sincerity and transparency in communication by the management during the induction was a pivotal factor for change.

Retention

In the various phases the construction industry goes through, it is very important that existing employees are effectively nurtured, motivated, trained and made a part of the wealth creation process to remain competitive on the market. Employees need to be empowered; succession planning should be in place; productivity analysis should not be the only criterion for deciding the longevity of the person; and freedom to express one's ideas and views should be part of the culture. Unfortunately, these factors are usually not given due importance because of negligence or ignorance. Blue-collar workers in the construction industry are crucial to project execution and it is vital that such manpower is outsourced to professional agencies (and not man-power contractors) who treat each and every human resource as an asset and are well-equipped to organise team-building exercises and handle grievances humanely. The attitude of supervisors towards the workforce also goes far in determining retention of employees.

Case in point

One of our clients in the construction and project management segment, who faced the problem of attrition, had given us the challenging task of managing their white and blue-collared workers. We found the main problem was that the employees never felt part of the organisation as their outsourced vendor was unprofessional and worked more like a contractor with only transactional dealings with his employees. We tried to change this with a proper human interface and helping employees to share their grievances. We organised various team-building exercises on off-days and got them to feel part of a larger family. This was continuously monitored and evaluated and we were able to bring down the attrition ratio by a sizeable percentage. What we did was not rocket science but plain human intervention with continuous monitoring. The net result: the client saved a substantial amount of time and money. It is also important to understand that non-core areas of the company should definitely be outsourced to professional firms and not labour contractors; the cost incurred is negligible compared to the returns in the long run.

Rewards and recognition

Rewards and recognition are very important to keep employees motivated. Intrinsic motivation like a pat on the back, promotion with lateral responsibility, award of employee of the week/month/year and job rotation are all ways to break monotonous routines. Monetary benefits in the form of incentives or bonus can also be an important tool for salary correction and to reduce disparity amongst peers.

As seen in the cases mentioned above, rewards and recognition go hand in hand, something we have observed in our own organisation too. Small gestures like a gift voucher or movie ticket can go a long way in keeping employees happy in the short term. Over the long term, career progression, assigning lateral roles, correct compensation, a friendly working environment and minimal politics in the working arena can go a long way in employee retention. Skill enhancement and development through various forms of continuous training help create a good pool of employable people; this ensures career growth to the employee and helps the employer meet exigencies in terms of deadlines.

Also, proper forecasting of manpower requirement based on the number of projects is very important. A detailed action plan has to be laid out specifying when and where to hire and the cost involved. Planning should factor in any surprises that may arise owing to the complexity of the job, pre-ponement and postponement of the project, or any other factors, as these may lead to cost overruns. Better coordination and communication with the sales department is a prerequisite to get the desired outcome. Overall, if adequately empowered, the HR department can play a key role as the backbone of a company, creating wealth for internal and external stakeholders.

About Wits N Skills: Established in 2007, Wits N Skills is dedicated to the development of the employment market. A multi-disciplined organisation, it recruits across a range of functions and sectors; and provides training and development programmes, payroll services and compensation survey services.

 

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Chandramauli Yodha

A Dynamic Business Development Professional with over ten years of experience in business development, sales and marketing, customer relations and library management.

www.witsnskills.com

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