It’s that time of year when the exams are nearly over and some of your DEC students are about to begin one of life’s great adventures – leaving school and getting a job.

Even for those who are staying on in sixth form with a view to university or sixth form, they will all, at some point in their lives, be vying for that top position in industry. And you, as their teacher, will need to give them some good advice….

We asked our good friend Simon Owen, Director of Built Environment Recruitment at leading agency Calibre Search, to help us help you identify young talent.
As a specialist for nearly 20 years, Simon finds some the best people in industry, so he’s a good person to ask:

What does talent look like?

Soft skills:

Talent has a genuine interest in a subject or topic; could be anything from Minecraft to cars, maths to literature. What matters is the desire to know more, go further into something than most.

Can engage; the difference between good and exceptional. Those who can communicate their passion can spark it in others, or enable them to benefit from it.

Can listen; how else can we gain the experience of others or understand the issues that they need to resolve?

Thinks; the answer isn’t important, the process taken to get there is. Those with a convoluted process are often great at dealing with complex subjects others shy away from (possibly despite frustrating you with their struggle to go down the straightforward path…).

Effort; talented people are willing to make the effort, consistently. The people who have the best chance to demonstrate this are those whose motivations are easily identified because they readily respond to input. The challenge for you as a leader and mentor is to find the motivation for the ones where you “know it is in there somewhere”!

They care; if something matters to someone they will look after it and nurture it, be it an idea, a person or a project.

Wants to make things better; it could be a process, a physical object or an ideology. Talented people are normally driven to improve something or bring about change, not just turn the handle of the sausage machine.

Hard skills:

Practical experience Pt 1; it could be working in construction or building engineering whether in a parent’s office or helping out on a site, but any exposure to real work within the industry sets a young person apart from their contemporaries.

Practical experience Pt 2; similarly any form of work experience is massively, hugely, almost beyond words, valuable. Delivering papers shows the ability to get up and out early in the morning, in the rain reliably when many would prefer to be in bed or their comfy dining room eating breakfast. It speaks volumes beyond the words “Paper delivery for the local newsagent”. Working in any live environment boosts communication, numeracy and team work as well as instils the subtle skills of workplace etiquette, politics, the differing relationships between colleagues and managers, discipline and exposes students to people who have problems, issues and experiences that they possibly may not otherwise meet. There are a lot of graduates now coming out of University who have never worked in any shape or form and that is a big hole in their life skills education and can be seen as a lack of motivation, especially to prospective employers who did part-time work during education.

They could be numerate (crucial for an engineering or cost orientated role) or creative (vital for a design or visualisation post), but talent is rarely one dimensional; it excels in one area, but isn’t out of it’s depth in others.

Conversely, exceptional talent is often brilliant in some respects to the detriment of all others. This is often a one or another situation!

IT Skills; the people with the best potential often do more than merely enter the data or shuffle things around the screen; they may be diving into menus or have a custom set up without necessarily producing an outstanding result.

Communication; be it orally or with the written word, they possess the ability to articulate their thoughts and ideas in a way that others can understand and digest.

Likes problem-solving. Buildings are here to solve problems; the need for somewhere to live, work or play. They also create the need for solutions. What is the best way to ensure the building is a comfortable temperature? How do I get clean water to the top of the building and used water out? How can we link these buildings together from a roads and sewers point of view? Where is the best place for a new school in this crowded city? Can we see what maintenance this existing facility needs and produce a cost effective plan to deliver it? The industry needs people who can schedule, account, design, visualise, calculate and explain to create, deliver and maintain the world that we need to function.

Academic achievement; a tricky one. Talented people seem to either be exceptional in certain subject areas or above average grades across a number of them. Someone who has D’s across the board won’t stand out, but to an enlightened interview, someone with D’s across the board with a B or two in say maths or physics will. Talent doesn’t necessarily have 10 A*’s

How to demonstrate it? The million-dollar question…
An exceptional result in a certain area; possibly producing a model as part of an art session, delivering a project where you just think “wow” or being able to present an idea or concept that gets others enthused.

Provide evidence; produce a portfolio with photo’s and explanations
Leaves you with a feeling of “yes” or elation after meeting them. They have that “je ne sais quoi” that makes you want to work with them or leaves you feeling that they have something special.
This isn’t a time for the politically correct “everyone can achieve given the right environment”, talented people leave you knowing that they will achieve.

simon-owen-calibre-searchSimon Owen
Vice-Chairman of CIBSE Yorkshire and Director of Calibre Search

Simon has been recruiting since 1998 within the Building Services, Facilities Management and Energy Management / Sustainability sectors. A Fellow of the Institute of Recruitment Professionals he is also an active committee member for CIBSE Yorkshire.

Simon organises a range of CPD events and is passionate about supporting people in the industry, from first steps to climbing the ladder. When he’s not working, Simon can be found with his family or training for one of many cycle rides, such as the coast-to-coast (Sellafield to Whitby) and a 500k in 24 hours.

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