Choosing AEC

Jul 17, 2022

Will Anderson, CM&AA

A few reasons this is one of the safest and most rewarding industries to be in.

It feels both like yesterday and an eternity since I graduated from the University of Arkansas with my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. To be quite honest, when I decided to take the engineering route in college, I really wasn’t even sure that I wanted to be an engineer. While I’ve always enjoyed things that are mechanical in nature and I received real satisfaction from learning how to put actual numbers behind the things we experience and interact with in everyday life, I still wasn’t sure. I suppose the lingering memory of a high school class where an engineer from Ford or GM visited and explained to us that his job consisted purely of designing car door handles left a bad taste in my mouth, so to speak. Regardless, I figured since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in five to 10 years and that I was already pretty good at math and the practical side of engineering, I may as well do it. I assumed if I could learn engineering in four years, an employer should be able to see that I can learn pretty much anything else relatively quickly.

Fast forward to my junior/senior year, and by this point I was fairly sure engineering, in the traditional sense, wasn’t what I wanted to do as I was more interested in business and the operational aspects of them. I ended up starting a marketing business with some friends. This went well for about a year before we had to close up shop due to a multitude of issues, including losing clients going into COVID lockdown, self-inflicted time and resource management issues, and a failed M&A deal with a shady firm. It was a learning experience to say the least! While I considered engineering jobs, our mentor, Mark Zweig, recommended I check out Zweig Group. They had an opening for an M&A analyst position, which, fresh off the heels of a failed deal, intrigued me as I knew financial experience would greatly benefit my professional development goals. Not to mention, it would give me exposure to the thought processes of firm principals and what goes into running profitable firms.

I studied finance and M&A for more than 50 hours that week so I didn’t make a fool of myself in the interview and decided to apply. I ended up getting the job and my eyes were immediately opened to the massive amount of opportunity within the AEC space. While most mechanical and electrical engineering students dream about getting a job in tech, aerospace, automotive, or one of the other fancy new industries that are always in the news, I would argue that AEC could be a better deal. Even for business, marketing, and finance students, I’d say that this is one of the safest and most rewarding (not just monetarily either) industries to be in. Below are a few reasons I think this is true:

  • Stability. Many people currently believe, and rightfully so, that most tech companies are overvalued and that the industry as a whole is in somewhat of a bubble, similar to the dot-com bubble in the ‘90s. I think the same can be confidently said about the electric vehicle market as it currently stands. AEC however, is a pretty stable industry with predictable demand and revenues. When market conditions get tough like we’re currently seeing, in many industries companies will start to freeze hiring or even lay off employees. Meanwhile in AEC, we’re scrambling to hire qualified people, as well as admin/business staff to support all the work that needs to be done. You see, if your background/education is useful and you’re a person who can get things done, there’s probably a good-paying job in AEC that you’re qualified for minus some of the potential of being laid off. Plus, we just had an unprecedented infrastructure bill fill many firms’ backlogs for the foreseeable future. We’re busy and can use all the help we can get.
  • Competitive pay. Recruiting and retention is probably one of the single largest challenges that we’re seeing in the AEC industry right now. We seriously hear about it every day. If you’re interested in the industry and have either business or technical skills, there’s probably a slew of different opportunities out there that you can get yourself plugged into. Another point worth mentioning, second-tier leadership is another area that our industry’s lacking in. If you have the work ethic and right attitude, it’s not difficult to work yourself up the ladder at the right firm somewhat quickly.
  • Rewarding. There are few industries that are as prominent in our everyday lives as AEC. Think about it! Where you live, the roads you drive on, the building you work in, the swanky restaurant down the street that you enjoy the atmosphere of, even the nature walking trail through the city that allows you to escape from the hustle and bustle. All these things are products of the ideas people in the AEC industry come up with. It’s quite rewarding to be able to look at a city’s skyline and know you had a hand constructing an icon of the city’s identity. Recently, I was at our ElevateHER conference in Dallas and was talking to a project architect involved in changing the green lights on Bank of America plaza to the new, controllable RGB ones seen today. This just happens to be the same building where Zweig Group’s Dallas office is and we just happen to be able to control the lights through an app. I was able to give her access to control the lights and the reaction was priceless. It was like I was able to bring the project full circle and that feeling was immensely satisfying.

These are just a few of the things I’ve noticed since joining the AEC industry. Talk to anyone else, and they’ll have their own list of reasons. Mark Zweig wrote about this in one of his articles a while back. While many of our points are similar, I thought it would be fun to give a personal anecdote on how my experience has been entering AEC from a non-traditional route and what I’m seeing from my perspective. As I’m aware a majority of the intended audience of this newsletter are already established professionals and have seen this yourself, I encourage you to share this with any of the younger people you may know who are trying to decide where they want to go after they receive their degree. To the younger people who read this, please explore the opportunities within AEC. You may be surprised how much you like it!

Zweig Group also has a new survey for new or recent grads who are planning a career in the AEC industry. Click here to participate! 

Will Anderson is a mergers and acquisitions analyst at Zweig Group. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.