State of recruiting in AEC

Feb 14, 2021


New data on recruitment and retention shows how firms of different sizes, types, and geographies were impacted by the events of 2020.

By and large, the AEC industry has been weathering the storm quite well in comparison to other industries. On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being “very satisfied”) employees in the industry gave an average rating of more than 4.5 to their firm’s response to COVID-19. With many engineering, architecture, and environmental projects on track, Zweig Group data saw modest salary increases and a continued need for qualified candidates. Very few layoffs were reported, with many firms reporting zero, even in 2020.

Here are a few more key findings from data gathered in Zweig Group’s most recently released, 2020-2021 Recruitment and Retention Report.

  1. Firms are still hiring. Sixty-two percent of respondents stated they had an open position they would like to fill with an ideal candidate from another firm. Sixty-nine percent of firms have hired a recruiting or executive search firm during the past two years to handle their hiring needs. New hires made up an average of more than 20 percent of full-time employees across the board, with higher numbers reported for multidiscipline engineering firms and lower numbers reported for architecture/interiors, and landscape architecture firms.
  2. Turnover is still occurring. Overall, growth has slowed. The average percent growth in staff members was 13.1 percent in 2019, 8.2 percent in 2020, and just under 10 percent in 2021. Still, firms continue to have the same number of open positions relative to firm size as they had prior to the pandemic (an average of 7.3 percent of open positions in relation to full-time employees). Firms in the South Central and South Atlantic reported the highest number of open positions related to staff size (near 9 percent) and related higher turnover numbers, while those in the Mountain, Pacific, and North Central all reported slightly lower than average. Involuntary turnover (firing) was still very low in the AEC industry – under 3 percent of total staff. By firm type, voluntary turnover was higher in full-service engineering and multidiscipline engineering firms (more than 11 percent on average) but lower at architecture/interiors/LA firms and environmental firms (4.3 percent and 5.1 percent on average). Zweig Group’s Impacts of COVID-19 on the AEC Industry Survey reported 21 percent of respondents stated pandemic related factors, including working from home, child-care, and work-load changes resulted in some amount of their staff resigning or requesting a reduction in hours/pay, but 64 percent were completely unaffected by these factors.
  3. Hiring is still tough! The majority of firms report it takes 30-60 days on average to hire a candidate. For difficult positions, the majority of firms say it takes five or more months! Consistent with previous years, firms still report a “lack of qualified candidates” as the biggest impediment to successfully hiring new talent.
  4. Culture is more important than ever. When asked how important a variety of characteristics were when hiring a candidate on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being “very important”), cultural fit was rated an average of 4.9! In comparison, education and salary expectations were rated an average of 3.8/5. More firms than ever are providing training and prioritizing career development, with almost all reporting in-house training options and 95 percent offering outside training seminars, conferences, or classes. These outside trainings have been easier than ever to come by, with an explosion in online offerings during the pandemic.
  5. Increased reliance on digital recruiting. Eighty-seven percent of firms are now using LinkedIn as a method to recruit. Technology has also taken the forefront in employee support, with nearly 90 percent of firms now reporting an established system or schedule for upgrading hardware and software, and 75 percent providing IT support by phone to all employees.

Overall, recruitment is still a significant challenge for the AEC industry – but the resilience of the industry, a strong focus on culture, and the quick adaption and satisfactory response to COVID-19 are all factors likely to drive interest in the industry for the future.

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of research and e-commerce. She can be reached 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.