Meeting the skills shortage – building local links
Article added 14th November 2011
Engineering and environmental consultancy Wardell Armstrong has a continual need for qualified specialists at the right level. With disciplines ranging from renewable energy to waste resource management, land and property, infrastructure and utilities, international mining and mineral estates, the firm has branches around the UK, as well as international offices in Kazakhstan and Moscow. With its head office in Stoke on Trent however, recruitment of staff can sometimes be a problem due to competition from the ‘bright lights’ of neighbouring cities Manchester and Birmingham.
“There can be challenges in recruiting staff due to external perceptions of Stoke,” said Vanessa Oakes, HR Manager for Wardell Armstrong. “And whilst the reality of North Staffordshire is much better than the perception, that coupled with shortages in the skill sets that we need means that we can struggle to recruit and relocate high calibre candidates to Stoke.
International mining - an area that’s currently seeing huge growth - is a case in point. As experienced staff retire, and our business continues to grow, new recruits are needed with degrees in subjects such as geology, engineering geology, mining engineering and hydrogeology. When Wardell Armstrong was recently looking for a director to lead their coal mining services group they found exactly the right person – but had to bring him to the UK from South Africa.
So the firm is pioneering a new approach to addressing the skills shortage - one that aims in effect to partly create their own local labour market through training and development.
By encouraging relationships with local schools and sixth form colleges, Wardell Armstrong is working to give students some real experience, and in some cases inspire their choice of university degree. “We’re looking to develop long term opportunities,” said Vanessa Oakes. “When students are thinking about what course to follow, we want them to know there’s a large local employer right on their doorstep offering great opportunities once they’ve got their degree.”
Building on close links with Stoke Sixth Form College, Wardell Armstrong recently ran a “business in the classroom” programme as part of a joint project with the CBI. A group of students was asked to research and design an induction booklet to explain the consultancy’s structure, UK organisation, culture, processes and messaging.
In a similar initiative, six local students from St Joseph’s College will this summer take part in a one week structured work placement, gaining exposure to varied fields such as civil engineering, heritage history, landscape design and planning.
“Students already interested in engineering and science related subjects will get work experience and a taste of life working for a top consultancy,” said Vanessa Oakes. “At the same time, we can start building relationships and assessing suitability for summer placements, gap year placement or even future careers with us. It’s good for the students – and we believe that long term thinking like this can only be a positive step in helping to address the skills shortage.”