Drainage Contractor

Features Business
Finding the right fit

Hiring great employees and treating them well is good for business.

October 30, 2015  By Rob Burtonshaw

For us it is normally a struggle to find good people, and from my conversations with contractors around the world, I think most people in our industry would agree. Often overlooked, but just as important, is the fact that it’s also difficult to hold on to the good employees we already have. Let’s be honest: the work we have to offer involves sweat, mud, more sweat, and more mud. It’s freezing in the winter and hot in the summer and it’s almost guaranteed that at some point you will get sunburnt. It’s not badly paid work, but it’s not jaw-droppingly good either. There are perks and working in the beauty of the gentle, fertile, rolling hills of Warwickshire should not be understated, but it remains, I suspect, an average job.  

I had high hopes for an employee that joined us a year or two ago. He had the right attitude and was learning fast, but to be honest, I was not very surprised when his resignation letter hit my desk, declaring that he had a better offer. He wanted to move up in the world and had the potential to do so. I cannot begrudge someone for showing ambition. However I was surprised to hear that the job he preferred was, to be frank, nothing special. I immediately thought he had made a mistake, of course, but as usual, the mistake was mine.

The problem is that other jobs – less enjoyable, less interesting jobs – are drier and far less physically demanding and pay only slightly less or similar to our work. Here in the U.K., this trend is set to continue. The government has decided that low pay topped up by benefit payments should be replaced by higher wages. You might say they have privatized welfare and many would agree that private companies should offer wages high enough for their staff to live on. I do not wish to comment on the politics, but rather to acknowledge that this will make an existing problem worse. By increasing the minimum wage, many jobs that were previously very low paid will become more attractive. Although the wages we pay are comfortably above the minimum, this change will affect us, like it or not. But if pay differentials close, the jobs I offer look less attractive. The natural reaction is to shrug our shoulders and declare that we cannot afford to increase pay. But if you want good people you have to be aware of the marketplace. No man is an island.

Maybe in the old days workers doffed their caps and happily worked without much thought to ambition or what might be offered over the road. I hear that things were different back in the day. But today I have no choice but to be a good employer. We are trying (not always as hard as I know we should, but we are trying) to be a better employer. Wages have gone up and must go up again. We have to be adaptable and try to accommodate (reasonable) requests for more flexible working hours. For most of our team, transport to and from work is paid for, and other perks are being considered. It’s not enough. Career pathways, training programs and yearly appraisals will all have to be formalized. It takes time out of my day and adds another line to my “to do” list, yet if we want to have good people working for the company – and we do – I have no choice. This must be done.  


And you know what? It makes me feel better. I don’t want to employ people the way my grandfather did. I want an efficient, flexible, skilled and profitable team of professionals, capable of getting the job done. There is a great deal of value in having employees you trust to turn up and do the job right. It’s one less thing to worry about.  

Whether we notice any difference in the bottom line remains to be seen, but everything that takes a problem or a worry away is worth investing in and giving a go. 

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