Our industry is one of the best places for anyone to build a career, and we owe it to our children to expose them to the work we do early.
I have often said to anyone who will listen to me that I think the architecture and engineering “industry” is one of the best places for anyone to build a career. Firms in this business are often highly purpose-driven. Your companies are filled with intelligent, ethical, and creative people. And your people are “doing good” for our society, filling a very useful role. Your architecture and engineering firms help give all of us better places to live, work, learn, heal, and make things. You give us clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, efficient transportation systems of all kinds. Yours is important work!
At the same time, we are facing (and have been for some time) huge talent shortages. We desperately need more people with design, technical, and business skills in our industry.
Most firm principals have children. We tend to be middle-aged by the time we start our own businesses or become principals of existing firms. A thought occurred to me recently that it’s possible we may be looking past one of the most fertile fields for new talent there is – our own kids.
My mom (she is still living in her own home at 101) supported my interests in this stuff when I was just a little kid. When I was only 8 or 9 years old, she took me to our local library and found books of house designs that I could check out. I created my own designs on graph paper and then built them to scale out of legos. I thought I wanted to be an architect until I developed early success in my childhood entrepreneurial endeavors and got seduced by that. So I got two degrees in business and came back to my childhood interests at 22, and have worked in this industry ever since.
My oldest daughter, Christy, is now 34 and has been a part of this industry since she was a young woman. She grew up listening to talk about business at the dinner table, and started working for my design/build/development firm doing accounting and other stuff when she was an undergraduate college student. When we got back to the company that is today known as Zweig Group (it was taken over by its mezzanine lenders in 2010 from the private equity firm we sold it to in 2004), she became a writer and editor for our publications. Then she got her MBA and moved into marketing and marketing consulting for our clients.
My second oldest daughter, Anna, is 31 now. She is a very successful recruiter and works for Korn-Ferry, arguably the most prominent and successful firm in that industry. While she didn’t follow my footsteps into this industry, she did get into a profession that I, too, started my AEC career in.
Our 10- and 15-year-old girls – Hazel and Olive, respectively – are both showing an interest in design. Between Minecraft and The Sims, they spend hours and hours designing houses and entire cities on their computers. They both also draw obsessively. And they have each gotten very fussy about their room decor. I would be surprised if either or both don’t eventually become architects, planners, or designers of some sort.
While I know we all want our kids to be free to pursue their own interests and passions, we owe it to our children to expose them to the work we do early. Our firms need smart, motivated, and creative people. Take your children with you to the office. Buy them the computer programs that allow them to design and build. Show them the projects you have done. Talk about your work around the dinner table. Let’s start planting the seeds for the next crop of creative problem-solvers right here at home. You never know what might sprout!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at email@example.com.