Case Study: Building a Pipeline of Technical Talent

By Beth A. Klahre May 9, 2022
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​In a time when millions of people are quitting their jobs—4.5 million in the past month alone—Flexware is experiencing great retention and hiring as a result of cultivating long-standing relationships with potential talent.

Matt Heiden, director of talent management at Flexware Innovation Inc., an engineering consulting company headquartered in Fishers, Ind., said he plays the long game when it comes to sourcing and hiring. As demand for their services has grown, Flexware has hired many candidates from a yearslong process of identifying and building relationships with engineers across a multitude of disciplines, including electrical, software, controls, automation and systems engineering.

Flexware approaches recruiting as a "pipeline-building exercise," Heiden said. "As a consulting company, we always want to talk to individuals. For us, it's not as cut and dried as having an open [requisition] and we fill it. At any point in time, we might need three engineers or might not need any."

Flexware's recruiting strategy centers around building long-standing relationships with customers and potential employees, according to Kelly Pryor, the company's director of HR and business operations. "We understand what our customers need and look for candidates with the technical expertise that fits those needs. If we find a candidate with a great skill set who embodies our core values but we don't have a role for them, we maintain the relationship until a role becomes available. We believe in keeping options open for any great candidate we meet."

These long, ongoing conversations have led to some valuable hires.

Rick Griswold, senior systems engineer, was courted by Flexware for four years.

He said several things kept him engaged until he received his job offer: "Flexware is a creative, entrepreneurial company with strong ties to inductive automation, and I connected right away with Flexware's cultural values. And Matt Heiden was always willing to talk to me. I never felt like I had run out of welcome to have a dialogue." Griswold had three other job offers in hand when he accepted the opportunity to become a "Flexdog," the name coined for Flexware team members.

Jason Brown is a senior systems engineer who was hired as a Flexdog last year. His first discussion with Flexware was in 2017. Brown recalls talking to HR every year since then, but, until recently, the role was never quite right or he wasn't ready for a move.

"I was too excited by the work ethic and employee attitude to walk away just because the fit was not exactly right at first," he said. "Matt was clear that we should stay in touch. I never felt like Flexware was just trying to find a body to fill an opening."

Brown recently invited two good friends to join the team. He says, like him, both are happy that they made the move.

Shelly Morrow has been a professional/technical recruiter with System One, a national firm providing workforce solutions and integrated staffing, for the past 20 years. She said the key to building a talent pipeline is using technology effectively, noting that many recruiting sites have functions to create hotlists and contact potential candidates.

Morrow's experience indicates that recruiting engineers requires a different approach from recruiting nontechnical candidates. "The process and strategy remain the same," she said, "but the communication with engineering candidates may be different from the communication with a marketing or HR candidate." 

She advised that discussions with technical candidates should focus on technical skills, tools, systems and experience. "Talk about challenges that engineers have faced in the field and how they solved problems," she said, and "obviously, read the room. If an engineer starts to talk about soft skills or shares personal information, go with it."

Beers with Engineers

In a unique effort to build its technical talent pipeline, Flexware hosts a recruiting event called Beers with Engineers, inviting candidates, engineers and industry experts for a social evening at Top Golf, the local high-tech driving range. Heiden said that while the goal is to talk to like-minded engineers with a recruiting focus, the event has evolved into a way to build relationships among customers, the sales team, engineers and potential engineers. In addition to inviting 50 to 70 candidates through e-mail, social media marketing, Twitter and Facebook, Heiden sends personal invitations to individuals he's met through interviews or talking to them in the past.

Ben Harlan is a business intelligence architect at Flexware. His first conversation with the company was in 2011 when he was right of out college. In late 2017, he restarted the conversation when he was looking to relocate from Cincinnati back to Indianapolis. At a Beers with Engineers event, Harlan had the opportunity to talk to company leadership, including president and CEO Scott Whitlock and vice president of business development Jeff Etchison, as well as HR, employees and an employee of a Flexware client. "Getting to talk with the people of Flexware showed me their personalities," Harlan said. "Seeing their character in action through conversation was tremendously helpful and most convincing that the company would be a good place to work. Second to that was, of course, the talk about projects. That was fun."

Nathan Scroggins is a Flexware business development manager who said talking with Whitlock at Beers with Engineers solidified his desire to come on board. "Scott reached out to me on LinkedIn before the event," he said. "Then Scott took the time to talk with me about the open position during Beers with Engineers. That was very impactful. It is rare that a president or CEO is that engaged."

Pryor's initial impression of Beers with Engineers was that any idea to increase the pool of candidates was a good one.

"Hiring high-level technical engineers has always been difficult due to the shortage of candidates," she said. "We work primarily in manufacturing. Many of our customers invested in more technology during COVID, which means our services are in higher demand than ever. It multiplies the need for more high-level technical candidates."

Morrow believes passive candidates are more willing to hear about new opportunities now than in previous years. "Right now, it's a job seeker's market and companies need to make very attractive offers to get the best talent," she said. "Candidates know that they are in demand and are willing to talk about a potentially stronger opportunity for themselves and their families."

In 2021, Flexware hired 40 individuals, the most since 2018 when Flexware hired 23 engineers. Beers with Engineers, started in May 2019, was the impetus for long-term relationship building that led to many of these new hires.

"Finding great talent is hard. Our process is unique," Pryor said. "We are building a true pipeline of candidates. We know the candidates, their skills and their needs. Maintaining relationships allows us to ensure the right fit for the candidate as well as for Flexware. Making sure we spend time to check in with candidates wasn't always part of the process but has been now for several years. We make sure we stay in touch, even if that person takes another role."

The one metric used to measure the outcome of the recruiting event is simple: "If we hire one person per event, we feel it was a successful event," Heiden said.

Beth A. Klahre is a freelance writer from coastal North Carolina with previous leadership experience in global HR operations.

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