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Health & Safety on the agenda - Building careers on safer ground

By Elaine Dolan, Senior Consultant

Health & Safety in the construction industry in Ireland has changed markedly over the last 15 years, the CIF Health & Safety Week (23rd-27th October) is just one strong indication of how attitudes have changed. Checklists and compliance reports have been replaced by a focus on embedding a safe working culture and the promotion of the positive impacts on people’s lives.

Today, construction companies are committed to devoting time, money and resources, implementing strategies and policies to create a safe construction site for all employees. In fact, with more than 90,000 (Construction Industry Federation statistics) people in Ireland completing their Safe-Pass annually, no other industry in Ireland can claim this focus on safety.

This renewed focus on health & safety has created a buoyant market for health & safety personnel. At Hays we have seen a 35% increase in Health & Safety jobs registered in 2017, compared to 2016, and a 15% increase in candidate applications, over the same time period. Demand for these construction professionals is now outstripping demand for equivalent employees in pharmaceutical, manufacturing and facilities management sectors. Across the construction industry, skilled professionals in these roles are highly sought after and this has created a candidate friendly environment. However, the increased opportunities do not always turn out to be as attractive as they seem and professionals are forced to think twice before moving role. Whilst salary will always be high on the agenda, candidates now want to hear more about career progression, benefits and professional development on offer.

The balance of power has shifted according to Joe O’Dwyer, Health & Safety Manager at Collen Construction Ltd., “Due to the current competitive market, the candidates are, to a degree, interviewing us as the employer to see if we are truly committed to the Health and Safety function and not just ticking a box of having a Health & Safety Officer on-site. They are always keen to discuss the company’s position on continued professional development also”.

Operating in this market can be challenging for employers, so how can they ensure they attract and retain the right talent?

1. Offer education assistance and reimbursement

Nearly half of jobseekers (44%, Hays Ireland What Workers Want 2017 Report) would decline a job offer if no training or development was on offer. Investing in training for your staff, whether they have one year or 20 years’ service, will produce a more engaged and skilled workforce.

It makes good business sense to use your learning and development opportunities to attract and then retain staff. Do you offer financial contributions towards a NEBOSH diploma? If you do, are you communicating this? Is it on your website? Do you mention it on your job adverts? Do you mention it at interview stage? In a highly competitive market organisations must use every offering to ensure they stand out from their competitors.

If your organisation doesn’t offer learning and development opportunities, why don’t you? It will benefit your business today and in the future.

2. Career progression

Career progression was ranked joint second in terms of importance for employees’ career-related decisions in the Hays Ireland What Workers Want 2017 Report. The implementation of career progression plans will create a more engaged and driven workforce.

Health & Safety employees in construction often begin their careers on small-medium sized projects, working under the supervision of a Senior Safety Advisor. With experience, the natural progression is towards Safety Lead or Senior Safety Advisor roles on larger scale projects and then to Senior Safety Advisor/Manager positions. As experience grows so will responsibility, including site and people management and ultimately towards a strategic role within the organisation.

I recently placed a Graduate Health and Safety Officer with a leading Building Contractor. After three months in the role, they were promoted to Health and Safety lead on a large-scale project, managing two junior officers. This is a perfect example of an employee who had a well-defined career path in front of them and knew what they had to do in order to progress.

Outlining such career path for both new and existing employees will result in employees not only wanting to work in that organization, but envisioning themselves staying with the company in years to come.

3. Provide mentorships

When it comes to hiring and investing in Junior Health & Safety professionals, employers should consider offering a mentoring programme that will allow less-experienced employees to learn and grow under the direction of a more experienced professional. Where a career progression plan provides a theoretical proposal, a mentor programme will allow your staff the practical experience required to realise this plan.

Joe O’Dwyer has taken the same approach at Collen. “We operate a ‘buddy system’ where we pair a new Safety Officer with a more experienced member of the team who would offer guidance, support and check in with them regularly. We have found this has worked very well in facilitating the new employee settling-in and getting embedded into the company’s culture. We also have taken on a number of graduates over the last 12 months and this has proven to be a very effective strategy”.

Not only does this benefit the mentee, but also the mentor. It allows the mentor to hone their leadership skills and feel that their expertise and experience is valued by the organisation. Overall, it boosts employee engagement and morale and both parties will learn from each other.

The construction industry in Ireland has made great progress in recent times to become the standard-bearer for Health & Safety. The CIF Safety Week is a brilliant opportunity to shine a light on the fantastic work already completed and the strategic plans for the future.

The sector is currently awash with opportunity for employers to differentiate themselves from the competition and for employees to choose the roles that best suit them. Contact me today, if you have any questions on how your organisation can implement the above suggestions or how your next career move can benefit from all three.

To find out more, or to discuss your recruitment needs, please contact your local consultant

About this author

Elaine joined Hays in 2015 starting out on the Banking recruitment team working on one of Hays’ largest corporate accounts. She is now a Senior Consultant on the Construction & Property team specialising in the recruitment of Site Engineers and Health & Safety professionals for construction based roles in the Leinster region.

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