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A/E/C Recruitment: Challenges, Opportunities, + New Realities

A/E/C Recruitment: Challenges, Opportunities, + New Realities

If you’re an A/E/C professional, you may have seen the recent blog post on Marketropolis, an A/E/C marketing and business development blog, that highlighted 31 trends impacting the industry. These trends spanned from public private partnerships and integrated project delivery to sustainability and evidence based design. Among them were three specific to recruitment:

  1. The war for talent will only intensify. The job market for certain professions is tight and as baby boomer retirements continue, there will be less professionals to fill needs.

  2. Power will continue to shift from companies to employees. The workforce shortage is one driver of this but so is the client focus on selecting key people, not companies, for projects. A firm is only as good as its weakest team member, and this means that few strategic hires can make a firm – while a few key departures can break it. The investment in leadership has been waning in the industry for some time.

  3. Some staff will become commodities and thus expendable as A/E/C firms seek out employees with strong personal brands and deep skill sets that include both technical and soft skills.

Professionals who are actively involved in A/E/C recruitment know that these aren’t just trends and that they have been evolving for many years. They are now realities that need long-term strategies. Helbling & Associates has been recruiting within the A/E/C realm since 1992 and we recently discussed the above points with President Tom Helbling and Senior Managing Consultant Marc Datz. Below are some takeaways from that discussion. 

  • While recruitment in the industry has improved, there are many organizations that remain reactive versus proactive in their talent acquisition. Larger firms are more aware of the importance of developing talent pipelines and succession plans. However, this is not always easy to address because, while good leaders realize the need for these concepts, at the same time, they also have to be conservative in increasing overhead. So there is a constant struggle of balancing the need to create a depth of talent with the state of the industry, its competitiveness, and shrinking profit margins.

  • Many organizations don’t understand the talent pool and what is attainable within their structures and compensation ranges. They are unaware of the full range of talent that exists and how to access it. While they know who their direct competitors are, they do not know the firms that are one level outside of their direct competition that may have qualified talent. It’s important to note that there are roles in which ‘non traditional’ candidates can be considered. These professionals are in parallel industries who can bring energized thinking and fresh perspectives. Over the past few years, A/E/C firms have become more open to considering non traditional candidates.

  • Social media and websites such as LinkedIn provide companies enhanced access to low- to mid-level talent. The challenge lies in finding professionals who have proven experience and abilities to lead and manage. Professionals who are in their 40s and early to mid-50s are the successors to the retiring baby boomers and statistically speaking, they are a limited group. There are several reasons for this. One, the A/E/C industry, as a whole, has not been progressive in attracting, training, and developing talent. Two, Generation X has a population of 44 to 46 million people versus 80 million baby boomers. Three, the tech industry has been excellent in attracting engineering talent away from the A/E/C sector. Factor all of those together and add in several major economic meltdowns and you can see the tremendous strain being put on organizations in trying to replace current leadership and create succession plans.

  • Attracting talent is an art. It’s a two way street when attracting candidates. It’s not just about determining a candidate’s qualifications. It’s courting them and discussing why the company and role are a good fit for their career. Attracting senior level professionals is even more of a challenge. These individuals are looking for opportunities that offer growth and new challenges that can satisfy their personal goals, ambitions, and family considerations. Courting these professionals takes time, patience, and opportunities that stretch their abilities.

In closing, yes there are many trends affecting the A/E/C industry this year. And when you think about it, it's people behind those trends, making it critical to have a strong, innovative team at all levels within an organization. Together, they will move a company forward and leverage the opportunities that await.