Accounting firm Ernst & Young is prioritising staff retention as an area of focus for its business advisory services in Western Australia, having recently transferred senior partner and head of the company’s national people advisory business, Bill Farrell, to the Perth office.

It’s part of a move to provide more ground-level support to clients in WA, many of which face major retention issues and whose businesses are critical to Ernst & Young’s local growth.

“Our overall philosophy for our business advisory services is that they will be the growth engine of the company,” Mr Farrell said.

“We expect to double the size of our consulting practice in Perth over the next year.”

During the past 18 months, Ernst & Young has tripled the size of its people advisory arm to 35 consultants and three partners.

Much of the growth has been driven by the engineering sector, which Mr Farrell said was struggling with the issue of retaining an ageing workforce.

The mining industry is also providing a growing client base, as companies try to forecast where the global supply of skills will come from and how to attract staff.

Mr Farrell said businesses generally needed to be more flexible in their approach to retaining workers.

“For instance, mining companies building fly-in fly-out residential camps need to realise that different employees value different things,” he said.

“One of the organisations we’re working with is setting up a commercial labour hire company, using retired workers as consultants. It’s much more attractive for them in terms of flexibility, and the organisation itself can use their skills.”

Mr Farrell said that, while reward and pay were important, providing employees with opportunities for development, flexible work practices and a sense of commitment were crucial for retention.

He said recruitment was also an area where many companies struggled, losing potential candidates due to a lack of rigorous processes and systems.

“We think companies are not getting the recruitment process right and they don’t know how to engage people,” he said.

Ernst & Young has developed a recruitment policy which has a 100 per cent offer and acceptance rate, according to Mr Farrell.

“You’ve got to think about your talent pool, treat them carefully and involve them in the process,” he said.