Tackling the skills shortage through flexible working

13 December 2017
Image of an Amey employee wearing PPE on a construction site.
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In a recent interview, I was asked by a young dad if, were he successful, it would be possible to leave early one day a week due to childcare issues. My immediate response was “of course”. Amey can facilitate this either by employees making the hours up during the rest of the week or via a part time arrangement. After the interview my co-assessor questioned why he had hesitated to say yes immediately to this request.

In Consulting, we work in a flexible business where we expect our staff to visit sites across the country and work both day and night shifts as required. Site work is vital to ensure we continue to provide practical solutions, rooted in reality and we must continue to provide valuable learning opportunities for our engineers. We expect flexibility from our people and they should be able to expect the same from us in return. Our business does not fit into the 9 to 5 framework and it doesn't need to.

Part-time working can be perceived as a barrier to career progression but why should that be?  This outdated idea supports discrimination and is a hindrance to diversity. In our business, where knowledge and experience is king and our employees provide that experience, irrespective of the number of hours it may say on their contract.

I have worked part-time for the past 14 years, and have worked day and night shifts on highways and rail sites across the UK, along with attending client and internal meetings at various locations as required. Just like any full-time employee, I have had to juggle work and private life, ensuring my partner was available to assist at home, hence it is necessary that his employer be flexible too. My part-time status has allowed me to make the best of both worlds, being available to nurture the development of my children and deliver best practice for our clients.

Embracing the potential of part-time working and flexible working hours opens a potential talent pool who are often ignored by more traditional businesses. Part-time experienced staff provide the business with capability and knowledge at a reduced cost to the company. Working parents constantly juggle the pressures of business deadlines with childcare and at Amey we have many working mums and dads who would benefit from flexibility within the working week. There are many other valid reasons that you may want to work reduced or flexible hours, such as caring for an elderly parent, or making time for volunteering or a regular activity that improves your mental health.

Ask any business leader in the engineering sector ‘What is the biggest risk to their business in the next five years?’ and invariably the answer is 'the skills gap' or 'recruitment'. The lack of trained engineers coming out of the education system is endemic, as is the loss of trained staff to other industries.

Embracing flexible working attitudes will allow us to unlock a huge talent pool of experienced working parents rather than losing good engineers to other sectors. Our management system enables flexibility to be managed locally, requiring trust on both sides. We are able to support young parents wishing to return to work within Amey's existing systems, all we need now is for line managers to be open to the concept and embrace flexibility where it is appropriate. This will assist in attracting new staff to the business as well as improving staff retention.

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