Rethinking AEC Hiring: Crossovers and Creativity

Take a look at some current job postings in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry and you may notice a trend:

  • Minimum of 7 years of experience in construction with at least 2 years in multifamily or mixed-use construction

  • 10+ years of construction estimating experience, preferably in refineries, chemical plants and other heavy industrial/processing facilities

  • Minimum of 2 years construction or roofing experience, including 1 year of solar installation experience

In an ever-tightening labor market, firms may not have the luxury of requiring specific sector experience. According to a recent survey from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA), 79% of construction firms plan to expand headcount this year, but an almost equal percentage are worried about their ability to locate and hire qualified workers.

Beggars can’t be choosers, but they may be forced to become innovators. Are you stuck in your hiring habits? Below are some successful strategies AEC firms are using to tackle the talent shortage head on.

What tactics have worked for you, and which have failed to deliver results? Let me know – I would love to add your insights to my research.

Explore crossover potential

The Project Management Institute identifies seven project-intensive industries where related skills are in high demand. This research suggests that construction hiring managers may benefit from expanding their search criteria to target candidates in manufacturing and utilities. Of course, that means they have to build a business case in parallel to convince the client or prime contractor of the value of bringing on an industry outsider.

This scenario puts the impetus on job seekers to help employers make subtle connections, spell out role similarities, and advocate for taking a risk on transferable skill sets. They also must show demonstrated interest and a willingness to commit to getting up to speed quickly.

Lucy Cruz, Human Resources Manager at d'Escoto, Inc., suggests that you have to think outside of the box if you really want to find talent others miss. “Be open to candidates from different industries, backgrounds and experience levels,” she says. “Consider candidates that demonstrate a passion and willingness to learn, as they often will turn out to be some of the best hires.”

Invest in training at all levels

The AGCA survey finds that 63 percent of firms plan to increase investments in training and development in 2019, up from 52 percent at the beginning of last year. Those programs include reimbursing entry-level candidates for certification classes to test their mettle, weed out casual job seekers, and provide just-in-time training for critical shortages.

Other organizations are upping the ante with creative and longer-range approaches to talent development. Some great examples I have come across include:

  • MEA Energy Association offers a range of education, leadership development and industry connections for energy employees, including a new Field Leader training program that emphasizes scenarios like those encountered every day on the job

  • Powered by an alliance of service agencies, unions, and energy firms including ComEd and Nicor Gas, the CONSTRUCT program removes barriers for individuals interested in the construction industry with training and guidance needed to secure a job

  • Quad County Urban League partners with local employers to administer job-readiness programs that prepare individuals for work in utility, solar, plant engineering, and a host of other sectors

  • Johnson Controls offers co-op and apprenticeship programs in electrical and mechanical design and installation engineering for university students interested in long-term careers

Identify and nurture younger employees

In “How to Achieve Consistency in Finding and Developing Talent,” Engineering News-Record reports on an FMI construction industry survey that found “Nearly 90% of the 245 architecture, engineering and construction firms surveyed said they face talent and workforce shortages. Yet more than half (55%) reported having no formal processes in place for identifying and developing high-potential employees.”

Given the rise of industry digitalization and roles such as “analytics translators,” identifying younger workers who have the interest and confidence to take on technology-driven AEC roles will be a critical component of future hiring strategies.

Get better at forecasting

Job hopping is a real phenomenon in AEC disciplines, not by choice but by necessity for many experienced personnel. Most smaller firms cannot afford to carry employees on the bench until new projects commence, so they fall into a hire-and-layoff cycle.

Better project management can help you better track current and incoming projects to minimize downtime for your high performers. Perhaps that is why 30% of construction firms plan to increase their investments in project and document management software in 2019.

Make a change, reap the rewards

Rather than rejecting candidates based on very narrow and unyielding job requirements, AEC firms have a challenge ahead of them: to rethink hiring. Jumping on opportunities to accelerate skill transfers and reward continuous learners can create bigger, better candidate pools – at a fraction of the cost of building your own in-house training programs or engaging recruiting agencies.

Share your firm’s hiring innovations! Connect with me and let’s keep the conversation going.