Leadership shortage

Jan 23, 2022

We’re about to be short on leaders in AEC industry firms. It’s time to act now before it’s too late.

Talk to almost anyone in an AEC firm today and they’ll tell you that their firm needs to hire someone. Zweig Group data supports this (check out the 2022 Recruitment and Retention Report) with AEC firms overwhelmingly reporting their biggest hiring need is professionals with seven to 10 years of experience. People in this range are our industry’s next generation of leaders; we can’t afford to have a shortage now, or in the future!

Why do we have this issue?

  • Workers in the AEC industry with seven to 10 years of experience are dropping out of the workforce at a higher rate than any other group.
  • This is also the time range when:
    • The industry tends to lose women a lot faster than men
    • Individuals experience the most “burnout”
    • Employees with career aspirations often have to transition from technical work to more intense leadership/management roles

This is clearly reflected when we take a look at the data set for Zweig Group’s 2021 Best Firms To Work For, broken down by age range. Here’s what the data says:

  • Those in the 26- to 35-year-old age range don’t feel well informed about firm financials. They rate their knowledge of this area in the firm overall, as well as on the projects they work, lower than other older age groups.
  • Those in this age range don’t feel they are well groomed for success in the future and recognize a need for more formalized ownership transition at their firms. According to our Best Firms To Work For data, this age range ranks the following statements lower on a scale of one to five than other age groups: “My firm’s leaders plan well for the future by doing things like grooming future leaders and planning for ownership transition,” “My level of authority accurately reflects my level of responsibility,” and “My workload is appropriate.”
  • This age range also is more likely to be unhappy with compensation for overtime, compensation for extraordinary effort, and work-life balance (4.26/5 vs. 4.5/5 or higher for those older than 39 years of age). They are also least satisfied with parental leave, since they are most impacted by these policies (3.97/5 vs. 4.5/5 or higher for those over the age of 39).

What can we do to help?

Start with retention of the good people you have, and adequate preparation/resources for new hires! It’s clear that individuals in this age and experience range want to do more than just make money. They want to feel effective in their role and make an impact in their organization and on the people around them. This group also wants to feel prepared for challenges and learn from and relate to other people who are in similar situations.

Training programs, like Zweig Group’s Leadership Skills for AEC Professionals can help. This course is designed for leaders at all levels with an emphasis on aspiring, emerging, and mid-level leaders. It’s intended to prepare professionals for their increasing roles and responsibilities as team leaders and client managers. Training programs for project managers can also help facilitate the transition from technical to management/leadership roles by helping people in these roles feel prepared, capable, and impactful in new roles.

In addition to providing training opportunities, make sure your policies are contemporary and supportive of individuals in all age and experience levels in your organization.

More than half of firms surveyed report they have added “flex-time for all employees” as a benefit during the previous two-year (pandemic) period. One of the top benefits of new flexible and remote work polices are that they have enabled firms to hire new candidates who might not have been considered pre-pandemic due to their preference for remote or work-from-home options. Firms that are rejecting these polices put themselves in a tenuous position – we’ve seen a lot of recruiters, even ones with small and mostly local practices, being hired to find remote workers for larger markets. This isn’t a surprise, but reinforces that the recruiting game will continue to change as some firms resist flexible work and other firms can hire people in other states through flexible work arrangements that are no longer bound by geographic restrictions.

Fill your firm’s biggest hiring gap with leaders and future leaders! But in order to do so, firms are going to have to give these people the tools to succeed and the opportunity to set their own schedules in a responsible manner. 

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of research and e-commerce. She can be reached at czweig@zweiggroup.com.

Zweig Group's Leadership Skills for AEC Professionals provides AEC professionals with the skills to become more competent leaders and helps attendees develop and affirm the leadership skills, strategies, and techniques necessary to grow personally and professionally.

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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.