When it comes to recruitment, the AEC industry is grappling with an already limited pool of talent, mass retirements of baby boomers and difficulties attracting millennials—compounded by rapidly advancing technologies, evolving project delivery methods and owners demanding specific capabilities on complex projects. 

Owners also have become increasingly savvy and well-educated in terms of design concepts, construction processes and delivery methods. They want to be highly engaged in the construction process, and many have their own internal design and construction teams that understand costs, schedules and constructability issues. 

They are aware of the skills and expertise that are required for their projects, and they carefully consider an AEC firm’s talent and capabilities. They have high expectations, and the quality of a company’s team is often the differentiating factor in award selection.     

These changes are not necessarily challenges, nor should they be viewed as negative circumstances. They are actually opportunities for AEC firms to grow, expand their capabilities and achieve their objectives by doing one thing: strengthen their internal talent. The challenge lies in how to effectively do that.  

Put Technical Skills and Intangible Qualities on the Same Level
With all of the industry’s complexities, companies aren’t interested in just filling slots. It’s not about simply finding employees who are qualified based on their technical skills. It’s determining if they have leadership capabilities, strong communication skills and the ability to develop relationships at all levels within a team. Beyond those qualities, it’s important to consider if he or she will culturally fit within the company’s structure and environment. Many times, it is a professional’s cultural fit that determines how successful he or she will be within an organization.

Proactively Seek and Attract Talent
Progressive firms know if they want to be strategic with their short- and long-term objectives, they also have to be strategic with their recruitment. They consider the talent that is attainable, from determining viable sources for candidates to evaluating the likelihood they can attract and retain certain professionals.

If companies don’t have the right talent to build projects, they’re not going to get the contracts. Progressive organizations realize the need to keep their talent pipelines filled, and they want exceptional professionals on staff sooner rather than later. Furthermore, having more time to find and attract an ideal professional alleviates pressure on everyone. 

Strengthen Non-core Talent
Having the right leaders in non-core functions, such as business development, human resources, estimating, safety and security, is critical for supporting the operations and execution of projects, especially those that are significant in size and scope. The stronger the non-core talent is and the more innovation and value these professionals can provide, the stronger the operations side can be.

Make a Succession Plan
Succession planning is often viewed as a hypothetical situation, even though it is inevitable that employees will leave or retire. To be done properly, succession planning takes a considerable amount of time, and it often loses out to other competing priorities. The fact is, while there is never a good time to do it, it must be done proactively if a company wants smooth transitions among its shifting workforce.   

Implement Specific Programs to Attract Millennials 
Attracting young professionals to the AEC sector has become a priority in the industry, and it will take organizations of all sizes (not just the large entities) joining together to build awareness. It’s understandable that most people outside of the industry don’t comprehend what goes into construction and real estate development and what is entailed in building significant projects. Most don’t realize that the ”good old days” of raw construction have given way to organizations utilizing 3-D printing, BIM, tablets in the field and innovative alternative delivery methods. 

Firms of all sizes are leveraging these technologies to attract younger professionals to the industry. It will take time, but promoting these advancements and articulating the “why” to the prospective talent pool will continue to attract the next generation into an evolving industry.

Enhance Compensation Structures, Employee Benefits and Professional Development Programs
While compensation can still vary among firms, technology, professional development and performance metrics are ways in which companies can compete for talent. Leading firms understand this, and they are attracting and retaining talent at all levels by making investments in technology, building and nurturing strong internal cultures, providing opportunities for professional development and implementing bonus structures based on specific performance metrics. 

Sami L. Barry is director of marketing for Helbling & Associates, Inc., Wexford, Pa. For more information, email samib@helblingsearch.com.