Rachel Davis, director at Perega, explores how the re-emergence of succession planning in UK construction could lend its hand to the on-going skills shortages
Firms in the built environment are continually looking to the immediate and long-term future. Focusing on how to grow and maintain business, they set out their ongoing vision, placing emphasis on the consistency of their services and maintaining hard-earned reputations with clients.
With a diminishing UK construction industry and shrinking investment caused by business uncertainty, it is more crucial than ever to develop a strong strategy for moving forward. This is further compounded by the ongoing rhetoric around Brexit, which is intensifying a skills shortage amongst a talent pool drawn from continental Europe.
It’s against this backdrop that Perega, a 72 year-old civil and structural engineering consultancy, began to re-evaluate its business model. Originally a family-owned business, the company had been operating within a director-owned model, looking internally for its successors every time the opportunity arose. As the need for succession planning once again emerges, we had to ask ourselves: does this model have longevity, given changes in the industry and society?
Employees taking ownership
The shareholders realised that to give the business security for the future the best option was to transfer the business to an Employee Owned Trust. This secures the independence of the business going forwards and uncouples the future directors from having to contribute financially. This gives greater flexibility in appointment, ensuring that the company can have a succession strategy based solely on what matters most: talent and ability.
Research shows employee ownership encourages higher employee engagement, motivation and wellbeing, which in turn helps increase productivity and efficiency. All important considerations at a time when employee engagement levels, morale and productivity in UK B&I are falling behind.
Stirring a stagnant pool
These results are all the more important when you consider the UK engineering profession has declared it’s in crisis and facing a major skills shortage. The industry has been losing workers at a troubling rate over the last few years with those leaving the industry far outweighing those choosing it as a permanent career path. Owing to Brexit uncertainty and improving wages across Europe, the issue has been intensified by many EU migrants making the decision to return home.
A highly motivated and engaged employee-owned business has a much greater chance than others of attracting and retaining the right people in a dwindling talent pool.
To cultivate a people-centric culture, it’s important to consider how new recruits will be supported. After trialling them in our Southend on Sea office, we’ve found apprenticeships to be an effective way of combatting the skills shortage by producing homegrown talent.
Additionally, it is important to recognise the value of engaging with local schools and establishing relationships with teachers and pupils. This helps to better equip the former to communicate the benefits of STEM professions, and inspires the latter to consider engineering as a potential career path.
Clear business structures
The change to employee ownership requires a company-wide change to ensure everyone in the business feels included. Part of the change we’ve undergone meant looking to our staff to help make the business better and not thinking that the directors have all the answers.
To support a more transparent way of working, we now have a staff forum whereby each office has a representative who talks to their team once a quarter to present ideas and discuss important issues.
Annual staff and client surveys help measure satisfaction and progress. We had feedback from our people that, as a company, we needed to work on communication and managing underperformance. In response, we updated our appraisal system with a working group of 8-9 staff members.
In fact, accountability is now embedded at all levels. At board level, each director has a specific responsibility and is kept in check by the managing director.
A new look
Since the middle of the last century, the core issues impacting consultancies have changed drastically. Rapidly developing technology and a better understanding of the world around us have given rise to the green agenda, improved modular construction, new materials and more.
Part of standing out during a skills shortage is about staying fresh and up-to-date. To harness the changes within Perega, the directors made the decision not only to rebrand but to change the business’s name.
A business is its people
Succession planning needs to take a company’s history into account, including the people who make its day-to-day running possible.
The next step is to support and coach our people to be able to exceed their and our expectations.
Ultimately, just as much as people help a business into the future, the business must support and develop its people so they are well equipped for their career paths and to build a strong reputation for the industry.