Rental sustainability: how to attract and retain talent

By Andy Wright26 April 2022

In his review of the ‘three Ps’ of sustainability – planet, people and profit – IRN columnist Andy Wright discusses people and says acquiring talent is more than a commercial imperative.

I’m continuing to explore the issue of sustainability and how the rental industry is well placed to make a strong contribution towards a long term, sustainable model for this and future generations.

Andy Wright Chief Executive Officer ANDY WRIGHT is CEO of Sunbelt Rentals UK and an experienced senior executive in the rental equipment sector. His career began in 1989, leading to roles including Managing Director Northern Europe at Aggreko, International Chief Executive of Lavendon Group and Managing Director UK & Ireland at Speedy Services.

This article will focus on people, an area that, wrongly, often has a lower priority than the environment in our view of what sustainability is about.

Whilst it’s the reduction of carbon that often grabs the headlines, there is a critical need for our industry to proactively invest in people in the broadest sense - including in the communities that we operate from - if we are to continue to be a relevant employer in the future.

The war for talent
We who operate in the construction and adjacent equipment rental industry face an impending labour crisis as certain types of workforces age. In addition, we find it difficult to attract younger people.

We are in a war for talent, and we are competing for that talent against not just other similar companies but also other types of organisation like the technology giants, or Amazon-style modern businesses with strong employee brands. These can seem more appealing to younger generations, when compared to the more traditional working roles of the past.

We must make our jobs and our organisations more exciting, interesting and relevant and we will only be able to compete for talent if we are prepared to look at things in a different way, and this is where the S within ESG becomes important.

The S stands for social, and this seeks to focus on people and all things that relate to and are important to them, such as skills and training, personal development, diversity and inclusion, to name but a few, as well as their own personal values that are fundamental to their belief systems.

It’s this final point that is becoming crucial in winning the war for talent, because to prosper over time and, by definition, become sustainable, every business must not only deliver acceptable financial performance in the way it did in the past, but it must also now be able to show how it makes a positive contribution to society.

Values key to business
It’s this sense of organisational purpose that younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Z are looking for and it’s this purpose that will become the defining reason why any business becomes a more attractive employer than any other. People increasingly want to work with companies whose values align with their own.

According to the Bank of America, 87% of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) believe ESG factors are important. Ignore them at your peril, because this age group is likely to soon become part of the decision-making unit within their organisations, if they aren’t already.

Sunbelt Rentals UK is heavily invested in delivering social value and we are a responsible organisation seeking to utilise our position in the sector to support activities that align with our core values.

The ‘Weapons Down Gloves Up’ initiative is a great example of this. This combines boxing and skills training for under privileged young people to get a start in life. Civil Engineering Careers is an education centre in the North West of England, which provides CSCS (the UK’s construction skills certification scheme) and industry specific training for free, enabling young unemployed people with no or little skills to become a civil engineering labourer.

The initiative is led by Barbara Travis of CE Careers and David Hughes of DT Hughes Contractors, who have employed over 80 young people from the initiative with 55 further job outcomes provided for tier one firms. Sunbelt Rentals is a strategic partner of this initiative.

The aspiration is to take this from a regional to a national initiative, transforming young people’s lives, providing them with opportunities that they may not have otherwise had, as well as bringing new talent into the industry.

Focus on tangible outcomes
I like this because it’s very tangible and is delivering significant benefits. Too often we can see businesses engaging with token initiatives, that don’t make a difference, to be able to tick some box somewhere. This approach isn’t for me so we will invest our time and resources into programmes that add value and improve outcomes for people.

So, the second P of the three Ps of sustainability is People, and this clearly aligns with the S of social in ESG. They are one and the same and they are critical to building a sustainable business model. There is clearly a growing commercial imperative in doing this, but it’s crucial because it’s also the right thing to do.

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