In-house assets

Jul 24, 2017

Employees can help attract, recruit, and retain great talent in a tight labor market, so look to them as an augment for HR.

A steady stream of job postings for engineers, architects, and construction workers is always a good indication of work coming in. It also means that businesses like ours are faced with the challenge of acquiring good people. Across the AEC industry, it’s hard to find qualified professionals, especially those with mid-level experience. While the efforts of our HR and recruiting staff are critical during these busy times, I believe our best opportunities can be found through our existing employees.

Part of the issue with finding mid-level talent is that while many segments of construction slowed to a crawl during the last recession, jobs were limited and AEC graduates were forced to shift into completely different businesses. The slow recovery in construction meant that fewer workers were needed, and therefore less skill was developed. As the economy improves and projects ramp up at a faster pace, we are left with a big gap of talent; those having the mid-level production experience that comes with time spent working on projects and with clients.

A 2014 study from research organization,, emphasizes what we see: “The recent global economic and financial crisis has led the economies of many countries into recession … as a result, the unemployment is particularly noticeable in the civil engineering and building sectors. Consequently, in all countries in recession the professional development of fresh civil engineering graduates is disproportionate to their high study effort and qualifications, since they rarely have the opportunity to gain experience in practice and their knowledge gradually becomes obsolete.”

With AEC firms competing for the same people, finding good talent becomes even more challenging. We cannot afford to overlook the people we have in-house for opportunities. Their industry connections are bigger than ever before!

In order to be most effective at attracting, recruiting, and retaining good, skilled professionals, I think we need to focus hard on each effort and pull in resources outside of recruiting to help. HR and recruiting teams still do the bulk of the work, but employees can contribute throughout the process.

  • Attracting the right people. Go the extra mile to be highly visible in your hiring efforts. Networking and word-of-mouth is, by far, the best way to find the people we seek. Online and social engagement helps get the word out about who we are, so that we attract who we want, and get our name in the right places. Employees can help by sharing information and influencing their network of professionals to consider our company for advancing in their career. AEC firms are competing for AEC students and college grads. The good ones are getting multiple opportunities, so we have to find unique ways to differentiate and make those students take notice. We spend more time at career fairs and online than we ever have, so that we can be more visible to the next generation of professionals. As alumni, employees have an opportunity to contribute in a variety of ways that can make college career fairs more effective.
  • Recruiting people effectively. Balancing our immediate and long-term needs while recruiting is important. When workload demands are strong and candidates are scarce, we feel the pressure to hire fast. Hiring fast increases the odds of making poor choices, and bringing in the wrong people costs a company a lot of time and money. It is worth taking the time to interview multiple people. Employees from various functions in a company can help interview candidates in different environments to get well-rounded feedback. This also provides the candidate with a wider perspective of our company and culture. At Westwood, someone with great experience but different values won’t last long. Our employees are encouraged to pay close attention to how candidates align with our culture and trust their instincts about how well they fit.
  • Retaining good people. Keeping good people is a big challenge. Young professionals are more likely to jump companies. Once hired, we work hard to make sure our new staff knows their needs are important. Managers are encouraged to be attentive and available to those they manage and work to cultivate strong, trusting relationships. Employee feedback plays a vital role in continually improving Westwood’s workplace and the opportunities for staff. Many of the enhancements we’ve made to technology, communications, and workplace environment are the result of recommendations brought forward by employees. When bringing on a highly-experienced hire, it can require extra effort to align our mutual experience and expectations. Being open to their needs and staying aware of the challenges that this type of new employee faces is a good first step in actively retaining them. Being realistic in the recruiting process and attentive and available after the hiring is complete will help keep the top talent we hire.

We all know that the best people to hire are those who align with our values, are passionate about their work, and apply themselves to the best of their abilities to serve and satisfy clients. We seek leaders, doers, networkers, and people who are comfortable communicating and eager to make a difference in the company, in our industries, and their professions. New hires must fit well into a company’s culture in order to be most successful.

With plenty of opportunities and a steady workflow across multiple markets, this is a good time for AEC firms. Having the right people onboard to do the job is a challenge many of us face – and a challenge that requires extra effort if we want to ensure our clients get the best service and products. We can’t afford to pass by the perfect new candidate who is just down the hall from HR. As always, employees are our greatest asset – in many ways.

Paul Greenhagen is president and CEO of Westwood Professional Services. Contact him at

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.