By Matt Murphy
When a market sector is on the rise, the need for highly skilled workforce also rises. U.S. construction spending saw a month-over-month rise of 0.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.26 trillion in November, marking the fourth straight month of increases and setting a new high, according to a Yahoo! Finance analysis of Commerce Department data. There was a 1% monthly increase in the homebuilding sector and a 5.5% surge in office construction.
There is a growing need for a skilled workforce, yet most AEC firms point to a decline in training programs and offerings for employees.
This appears counter to need as the shortage of skilled trades workers is looming large, as addressed in a recent article in Forbes. We need to be clear—the disruption in the training industry is moving away from traditional instructor-led classrooms. This is evident through the current trends in the consumption of content in the AEC industry. The pressure to drive better designs and shorten the construction window with fewer errors and change orders is paramount. The Boomers are also retiring, placing the burden on the next generation to be a leaner and more highly skilled workforce.
Millennials will Become the Majority
While about one-third of employees currently in the workforce are from this generation, within fifteen years, that figure is expected to be 75%. That means that Millennials will advance more rapidly within firms than Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers did because there will increasingly be a need to fill senior positions. This will significantly change the dynamics and corporate cultures within AEC firms. Baby Boomers who have been the Project Principals as the ‘doers’ will need to mentor younger professionals to take over. For Millennials to become leaders, they must be gaining the experience and exposure now.
Investment in Employees
The workforce shortage is a driver, 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 a few strategic hires can make a firm, while a few key departures can break it. The industry has not invested in people in a long time. The recession of 2008 beat down the rising stars that have been wearing too many hats just to get the job done. Investing in leadership has not been a priority. So, firms need to better invest in those employees to turn them into leaders and keep them from leaving for a competitor.
Filling the Gap with an Upskilled Workforce
So, if you shift the goal of your current staff to leadership, how do you then fill the gap when there’s already a lack of skilled professionals in engineering, architecture, and field construction?
The goal for companies has always been to hire the most qualified candidates. But what if the candidates don’t have the minimum skills?
The need for smart talent management systems is critical to determine what gaps a candidate has, and then hire while “Upskilling” them. This is done with a true pre-hire assessment and candidate prospecting. No longer will there be paper-based, screen-qualified individuals with static qualification requirements. The true application of knowledge, skills, and critical thinking abilities will be assessed to partially qualified candidates, and then provide them with an appropriate upskill and onboarding program to shorten time to proficiency. We used to call this “on-the-job training,” but today, it’s more than that. It’s identifying strengths and providing a hyper-personalized learning path to an individual to fill a niche need.
Knowledge Management Drives Outcomes
The shift continues to look at the outcomes and goals of the individual, the group within the organization, or the project at hand. Knowledge management systems will track these three areas, determine strengths, and make appropriate recommendations to drive more successful outcomes. And for the AEC firm, that results in faster, better, and more cost-effective designs and building.
Talent Management Drives Brand
The shift in focus from companies to employees also means a shift from a corporate brand to a personal brand. Each individual in an organization has a unique voice, gifts, and talents. Talent Management begins on the day you’re hired. It’s an ongoing process that evolves with time and the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. As we shift from non-traditional services, firms will look at how spokespersons can drive projects to reality. The A/E/C firms that can move beyond the ‘traditional’ services are the ones that will be able to truly differentiate themselves while surviving and thriving in this new, disruptive market.
So yes, the reality is the AEC market is re-constructing itself to be more successful. Success beyond profits and for the employees. Today, it’s about recognizing the individual’s talent and knowledge while developing personal upskill opportunities that are rewarding for the individual, driving better outcomes for the organization. This will ensure the focus is on maintaining human resources that are rewarding for current and future employees.