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H2M struggles to find enough hires to keep up with rapid growth

Richard W. Humann, standing, president of H2M Architects

Richard W. Humann, standing, president of H2M Architects and Engineers, meets with, from left, electrical engineer Michael Lantier, staff architect Rabab Zia, HR director Liz Uzzo, wastewater engineer Jose Nunez and electrical intern Madison Schaefer at the company's Melville headquarters on Monday, March 27, 2017. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Last year, Melville-based H2M architects + engineers hired 96 people for its seven offices, with about half of those new hires based on Long Island.

This year, the firm has the task of hiring over 100 more employees in positions ranging from architects to civil engineers, with about half of those ending up on the Island.

Liz Uzzo, vice president of human resources, said H2M probably would have hired a dozen more last year if the firm could find enough qualified candidates.

But demand for skilled workers is great, creating a challenge for H2M and other firms that need to fill an abundance of positions.

“We’ve been experiencing significant growth,” says president Richard W. Humann, noting the firm grew from 220 to 360 people between 2014 and 2016. H2M is working on several large projects including PSEG’s storm hardening program funded by FEMA, and all the civil engineering work for the new Ronkonkoma Hub.

Construction budgets started to open up again about three years ago, as the public and private sectors started to bounce back from the recession, Humann says, adding “there were years of pent-up demand.”

But at the same time, the overall industry’s talent pool got thinner in part as some seasoned professionals sought new careers after being laid off during the recession, he says.

And demand is only supposed to get tighter.

“As Long Island nears full employment, attracting talent across a variety of occupations is becoming more difficult,” says Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the state Labor Department’s Hicksville Office.

Employment in the architectural, engineering and related services industry on Long Island has increased by 2 percent per year since 2010, she says.

Meanwhile, the workforce in this industry has been graying, she says. Workers over the age of 65 increased from 7.1 percent in 2010 to 9.1 percent in 2015, creating an additional need to replace retiring staff, says Patel.

By 2024, there will be a total projected shortage of 539,586 architecture and engineering workers in the United States, according to the Washington-based American Action Forum, a center-right think tank.

H2M understands the crunch and has taken several steps to expand its talent pool.

About a year and a half ago, the firm hired two talent recruiters, says Uzzo, noting it previously only had human resource generalists.

“They’re completely focused on recruitment,” says Humann.

The firm uses multiple tactics including career fairs at colleges, sponsored ads on Indeed, job postings on LinkedIn and an employee referral program, its largest recruitment tool.

H2M gives employees a recruitment bonus that varies based upon the position filled, says Uzzo, noting “you have to be open to all sorts of means to get qualified applicants.”

And you need to stay ahead of your recruitment efforts, says Rich Deosingh, regional manager in New York for staffing firm Robert Half International.

That means not just recruiting when you have openings, he says. Firms need to anticipate future employment needs and proactively position themselves to fill those needs.

He says it was a good move on H2M’s part to hire dedicated recruiters allowing them “to step up their plan of attack.”

In addition to the recruitment process, it’s equally important for firms to focus on the “onboarding” process for new hires, says Deosingh.

Firms must identify the right professionals to train and integrate new employees into the company, he says. And the process needs to be spaced out so the individual isn’t overwhelmed with information overload, he says.

“The onboarding process is easily a month,” says Uzzo, noting that H2M typically starts the process with no more than six hires a week, so each receives the appropriate attention.

The firm provides new hires with the customary basic operational and HR training, and also assigns each new employee a buddy — someone they can ask questions of or turn to in addition to their boss. The buddy takes the new hire out to lunch the first week. The buddy setup usually lasts between 90 and 180 days although relationships can last longer, says Uzzo.

“The buddy system they have here is amazing,” says Rabab Zia, 22, a staff architect who was hired last fall and knew her buddy from Farmingdale State College. “My buddy comes to my desk each day to say hi and introduced me to everyone.”

Assigning a buddy is a good idea, says Deosingh. Just make sure whoever takes on that role is an advocate of the company and not someone breeding negativity, he says.

With the tight labor market, H2M also focuses on retention. High-performing employees have an opportunity to become shareholders, says Uzzo. In addition, the firm offers free wellness programs and matching employer contributions for certain charities.

Its annual turnover rate is around 12 percent, down 2 percentage points from two years ago, she says. The national average turnover rate for all companies in 2016 was 18.1 percent, according to Compdata Surveys.

Going forward they’ll continue to be aggressive with recruiting, Humann says. “Our strategy is going to be to continue to grow.”

At a glance

Company: H2M architects + engineers, Melville

President/CEO: Richard W. Humann

Offices: Seven, including Manhattan, Melville and Riverhead

Employees: 360; approximately 290 on Long Island


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