Canadian Consulting Engineer

Keeping Talented Staff

March 1, 2011
By Mike A. Cuma, Legacy Bowes Group

I once asked an engineering manager how things were going in his firm. He quickly replied, "Well, if it wasn't for those demanding clients and these hard to please employees, things would be pretty good around here!" Although he was joking, he...

I once asked an engineering manager how things were going in his firm. He quickly replied, “Well, if it wasn’t for those demanding clients and these hard to please employees, things would be pretty good around here!” Although he was joking, he hit the proverbial nail directly on the head.

In business today, it is essential for engineering firms to attract, retain and develop their good employees in order to provide client satisfaction and support.

Contrary to popular belief, the leading reason employees leave their jobs to join another employer is not to gain better wages and benefits. This is often merely a departing employee’s response to their co-workers.

Employees quit their manager or supervisor more often than they leave their company or their job. Employees also leave in order to develop their own careers and as professionals.

What are engineering firms doing to retain their key employees? The leading practices are outlined below.

Professional development.

Investing in employees by providing opportunities for specialized professional training and development is a key to retention. Professional development brings a dual benefit. The employees feel valued and they acquire enhanced skills and knowledge, while the firm receives the benefit of more knowledgeable and capable staff. Leading firms may commit as much as $7,000 per employee annually to professional development.

Internship and professional registration.

Demonstrating a commitment to employees starts very early in the employment relationship. Leading employers help their new graduates and hires with Engineer-in-Training registration and internship reporting to the professional body. This is an essential step to developing positive relations and commitment.

Career development.

If variety is the spice of life, career and professional development are the main course. Leading organizations offer staff a reasonably defined path for growth and development. This path can include diverse assignments with increasing responsibility as the employee gains experience and training. Employees often put their career development as a priority over their loyalty to an employer.

Varied work locations.

Many companies perform work in a variety of locations across the country, and even around the world. For some employees these travel opportunities can be a big attraction, but for others, having to relocate or work away from home for extended periods may not fit their career and family plans. It is therefore essential that employers identify their employees’ interests, abilities and preferences. Every career development plan must be as unique as the individual for whom it is developed.

Work and life balance.

A number of companies have implemented varied work arrangements that suit the needs of the business as well as the lifestyle of engineering staff. In one company, during the summer months the employees could complete their basic work hours over nine days and receive a long weekend every two weeks.

Competitive salary and benefits.

It would be trite to say that employees are not concerned with the level of salaries, performance bonuses and health and medical benefits they receive. They are. However such concerns only start to creep in when the employee becomes dissatisfied with other aspects of the work relationship.


If employees feel they are not appreciated, valued or respected by their supervisor they will inevitably seek employment elsewhere. A company therefore must develop the leadership and communication skills of its managers and supervisors. Leading organizations select good people managers and have in place very effective leadership training and mentoring programs. cce

Mike A. Cuma is partner and vice-president of labour relations and human resources consulting with Legacy Bowes Group in Winnipeg. E-mail


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories