Retention Strategies Take an Advanced Degree of Engineering

By Meg Breslin

May. 8, 2013

For decades, structural engineering firm Degenkolb Engineers had little trouble attracting top engineers. But in recent years, actually keeping those employees became a much bigger challenge, says Russell Kaltschmidt, director of people development for the San Francisco-based earthquake engineering company.

When Kaltschmidt came to Degenkolb in 2009, he was concerned by a turnover rate that had hovered around 10 percent for at least a decade, at times creeping up to 15 percent. Kaltschmidt joined the company’s executive team in making retention a priority by paying closer attention to managers’ work with coaching, training and engaging the staff.

Working with retention consultant Leigh Branham, founder and principal of the HR consulting firm Keeping the People Inc. in Overland Park, Kansas, Degenkolb gradually improved its annual turnover rate to about 5 percent today.

That kind of renewed focus on retention is critical in today’s economy, particularly in fields such as engineering and technology, as many HR experts say there’s clear evidence of an emerging war for top talent.

Tony DiRomualdo, vice president of research for the Institute of Corporate Productivity Inc., a Seattle-based workforce research firm, says its latest research on the qualities of high-performing organizations points to a greater focus on talent management, specifically better employee coaching and mentoring.

Meg McSherry Breslin is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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