We have all heard of the perks of working at Google: pinball machines in the lunch room, on-site medical facilities, hairdressers and gyms and paid time for volunteering outside of work.

The list is endless – so much so that the company has been ranked number one in Fortune Magazine’s top 100 best places to work six years in a row.

Following this globally renowned status, Google records impressive staff retention and long lists of candidates all vying to work at the company.

Through recent conversations with clients across Queensland, it got me thinking why are these employee engagement programs only reserved for creative industries? As a candidate-scarce sector, we should be thinking more like this.

Over the past eight years I’ve been working within this micro-specialisation, I’ve seen ups and downs in the industry in terms of job availability and the staff to fill key specialist roles, particularly Estimators, Cost Planners and Contract Administrators.

This key concern has grown ten-fold in the past six months, particularly in the area of high rise residential experience.

While the job description and the salary packages are key to potential candidates, what continues to come out through discussions with candidates I work with is – why should I work there over another company? How do they look after their staff?

Our candidates within this sector are spoilt for choice given there is presently a small pool of talented professionals to fulfil key roles.

The answer is simple really, our sector is candidate-scarce which requires us more than ever to put time and energy in ensuring we not only retain our current workforce, but be seen as an ideal place to work.

Cockram is a 154-year-old construction company with offices across Australia. Established in 1861, they have 300 staff members across Australia, and 45 in Queensland alone.

Their executive team all started as graduates and record a minimum of 18 years with the company: WA Manager 20 years; NSW Manager – 20 years; QLD Manager – 18 years; and VIC Manager – 20 years.

It’s with this in mind, I sat down with Cockram’s Queensland State Manager Chris Meade to discuss what they are doing right in regards to staff retention in a market where candidates are being heavily head-hunted to lucrative jobs across the globe.

Chris narrowed it down to two key areas: always ensure there are further job opportunities for staff and they know about them; and develop a strong culture that is unique to the business that they couldn’t get elsewhere.

They must be doing something right.  Aside from recording large retention rates across the industry, they are about to embark on a further expansion into the Queensland market. With an increasing national footprint, the company has grown rapidly in the past five years, more than doubling their turnover in Australia.

“We have an internal program where staff can work in our offices across the world,” Mr Meade said. “When an employee gets itchy feet they are offered the opportunity to work in other Cockram offices such as interstate in Australia, America, China, New Zealand and many other locations.

“The fact the staff know from day one that if they want to travel and expand their expertise and horizons they can do it within the company.

“This has been very rewarding for younger staff who want to travel the world. Working in other offices is actually encouraged and there are constant internal emails going around about opportunities that are available overseas.”

Mr Meade also said the company puts a lot of time into the company’s on-boarding process.

“We would rather the on-boarding process be as long as needed rather than people leaving without all the information or because they didn’t feel supported enough in their first few months in the role, which can be stressful in any area,” Mr Meade said.

“As part of the on-boarding process, the executive team will call or meet (pending location) with the new staff member.

“In the chats, they will explain their role in the business, what they do and how they can work together in the future relating to their core role and skill-set.”

The culture was developed over years by their HR team who carry out company-wide staff surveys, host annual conferences for all team members and staff meetings every quarter with the leadership team.

“A few years ago, we realised we needed to sell Cockram as a company of choice as much as a candidate would sell themselves in a job interview,” Mr Meade said.

“To do so, we ensure everyone in the company knows what is going on and any exciting projects we have coming up. They all know what tenders we have out and what jobs are coming up.

“The days of employers taking for granted that people will work with them is over. For us, it’s not just a technical fit when hiring new staff, we place a strong emphasis on how well the staff member fits personality wise with the team and aligns with the corporate culture and values.”

Given our industry is presently candidate-short, companies need to be doing everything in their power to attract and retain the best talent.

Likewise, it’s our job as experienced recruiters to ensure this message is conveyed to potential candidates.

Companies that think beyond salary packages will do well.  It truly can be the smaller areas that will attract and retain the right talent.

Don’t believe me, just Google it.

Five key steps towards attracting and retaining quality staff in a candidate-scarce market:

  • Explain all internal opportunities to staff – don’t assume they know of them.
  • Invest in strong on-boarding processes – this isn’t just reserved for HR managers or direct managers. It’s the job of the whole team.
  • Realise staff perks aren’t just about money – look at days for volunteering, provide networking opportunities, learning and development and avenues you can assist them in giving back to the community.
  • Remember it’s not just the staff member you are employing, but their family.
  • Share future plans – if you are looking at opening new offices or have new projects underway, tell your team. Staff want to know they can move around within a company or be a part of projects they are proud of.

Jess Mitchell is a Practice Leader with Davidson Projects & Operations