Today’s A&E firms are facing the biggest talent shortage in history. Record low unemployment and competition for top talent is forcing firms to offer higher salaries, and become more creative with benefits, work-life balance and culture.  

On top of the talent shortage, the workforce is changing. But many firms are still clinging on to old-school attitudes and business practices that not only dissuade potential employees from coming on board but chase away top performing employees that are looking for a more future-friendly place to grow their careers. So, who is winning this fight? 

Does your firm “get it?”

While some leaders are entrenched in maintaining the traditions of the past, wishing the world was still the way it was when they came up through the ranks, others are embracing new hiring and business practices that are more in line with today’s younger employees. And it is not just the employees that are changing – you now have younger clients who want to work with a firm that “gets it”. 

The face of the workforce is changing 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials are the largest segment in the workplace. Within the next two years, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to be made up of Millennials. It will be 75 percent by 2030. 

Gallup reports that “Millennials are pushing for change in the world — including in the marketplace and the workplace. They don’t accept “that’s the way it has always been done” as a viable answer. They want to be free of old workplace policies and performance management standards, and they expect leaders and managers to adapt accordingly.”  


The next generation to follow them, Gen Z, grew up with a digital device in their hands and is just entering the workforce. How are you preparing your firm for this new generation that has very different attitudes, expectations and technical skills? 

And to complicate the picture in the next few years – ACEC Engineering, Inc. magazine, July/August 2018 edition reports that 50% of all experienced engineers will retire in the next three years.  

In order to accommodate the changing workforce expectations and prepare for the future, many A&E firms are moving away from old-school business practices and building a firm culture that is more progressive, modern and relevant to attract today’s younger architects and engineers 

How to make your firm relevant 

Here are 10 transitions every firm can make to become more relevant for potential employees and clients, and prepare for the future:

1. Focus on Your Mission

Young people today want to have a purpose. They see what is happening in the world and they are scared that they won’t have as bright a future as their parents. They want to feel that they are connected to a greater cause and not just the rat race of going to work every day and working towards a retirement in 30-40 years.  

Being clear about your company’s “why” for existing – whether it is to design better communities, improve the environment, or help people enjoy better healthcare  being clear on your mission and how you accomplish it with the work you do is critical to engaging their hearts as well as their minds. 

2. Embrace Sustainability

Whether it is plastic creating miles of trash in the oceans, birds dying from straws, or companies that create more waste than they do value, the younger generations care about where the products they use come from and how they are made. They are very focused on the future of our planet and its limited resources. This affects their purchases as well as the companies they choose to work for. Ensure your company has a position on the environment and is doing business in a sustainable way. As designers and builders of the future, today’s young architects and engineers want to ensure the projects they work on are good for the planet. 

3. Ditch the corporate ladder

Those of us who have been in the industry for over 15 years had to work our way up the ladder to attain career success. This type of career path does not appeal to young people today. They want the opportunity to grow quickly depending on their contribution and skill set.  

This means that today’s firms should look at how to enable faster growth in the company based on capability rather than tenure. 

4. Listen to the young folks

They have great ideas but are not often asked for feedback or ideas for improvement. Stop making decisions behind the doors of the ivory tower and bring the young people to the table. They will be happy to tell you where outdated (or nonexistent) processes, inefficient systems and lack of training are affecting their productivity and performance. 

You might also be surprised at the different way they look at the world and can help bridge the gap with the growing number of millennial clients you are now starting to work for. For a fast way to get detailed and honest feedback about business operations and how your firm can be better, check out our reliable Business Management Assessment. 

5. Encourage diversity

Employees and clients want to see themselves fitting in to your firm. Make sure your leadership team (and web page) reflects the diversity of employees you are looking to hire and the way your clients look today.

6. Update technology

Employees are increasingly frustrated with the level of technology at work. Many state that their tech at home is actually better than it is at work. Outdated software, slow performance, lack of training and non-integrated systems top the list of complaints that employees have about their workplace technology.  

To ensure your employees are productive and not frustrated on a daily basis with your computers and software applications, ensure that systems are reviewed annually, and a future-focused strategy is developed to reduce integration and compatibility problems.

7. Give tons of feedback and recognition

Employees today value frequent and consistent feedback and want to feel valued and trusted. As children, they got used to receiving feedback from parents, coaches and teachers frequently. Annual reviews are not sufficient and let’s admit it – no one likes them – even the managers who have to fill them out once a year. To keep employees engaged and happy, update your performance management practices to include clear goals, regular feedback and recognition when deserved.  

8. Become transparent

Most firms have hopped on the transparency bandwagon but there are still a third of all firms that are not sharing enough information with their employees. It is more common to see 100% employee-owned firms offer full financial transparency and it pays off! Studies show that firms with full transparency have more engaged employees and higher profits. Transparency includes sharing company strategic plans, regular financial performance and in some cases, open sharing of bonus plans and profit-sharing numbers.  

9. Let them work at home

Outside of the A&E industry, the majority of corporations are letting employees work at home several days a week. The benefits often outweigh the negatives – with studies showing that employees are often more productive at home without the long commutes and distractions from co-workers in the office. Another advantage is the ability to hire people that are not close to any of your offices. With the tight market for talented A&E professionals, finding workers in remote locations can be a competitive advantage and they might be willing to work for less in exchange for giving up the commute. 

10. Tie company profits to the mission

We have now come full circle – back to the missionI often hear the assumption that talking about profits is not acceptable anymore. Leaders often believe that with the strong focus on the mission, many younger workers don’t have an ear for business talk. This is nonsense. The problem is how you are framing the business conversation. 

By tying company profits back to achieving the mission, you can create a clear connection between the focus on giving back – and how you are going to pay for it. Once employees see that it takes money to make the world a better place, they will admire your firm’s diligence towards financial responsibility and be proud to work for a financially successful firm. They will also enjoy the financial benefit they realize personally as well. 

Being relevant today is not an option. The struggle for talent and the changing face of your clients is making it critical to rethink the “way you have always done it.” Be willing to question all of your business practices and give up the traditional practices of the past. Ask your employees how you can be better and let them help you implement change. You will see your profits increase and your employees will want to stay where they are appreciated, and their ideas are valued.  


RAISE Your Value: 5 Steps for Architecture and Engineering Firms to Uncover Hidden Value, Design a Winning Advantage and Charge More

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