Up and bummer

Apr 15, 2019

At what should be an incredibly productive and exciting time in the lives of young professionals, the AEC industry is failing to engage.

It’s unfortunate that “millennial” topics have become buzzwords. It’s a shame the discussion revolves around the same stale talking points. Diatribes about participation trophies, “finding the why,” and entitlement obscure the bigger picture. But just beyond the fog, if you can manage to get there, lies the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about a fully engaged workforce at every career level.

Recent survey results show that the AEC industry is falling far short when it comes to providing a satisfying career for individuals between the ages of 26 and 35. If you’ll be patient, I’ll share with you another set of data points on this topic. And these are tantamount to a call to action.

In my work with firms, I have heard countless times that someone is “the right person, but not ready yet” to take on a bigger role. This wait-and-see attitude ignores mounting examples of extremely successful young leaders across all types of organizations. In due course, this leads to the “right person” feeling held back in their career, causing frustration and creating the risk that they will relieve their headache by joining another firm – one that puts them in a leadership position.

The data supports what I hear from both the up-and-comers and the established leaders. Zweig Group divided its 2018 nationwide Best Firms To Work For data by age tier. The results are fascinating, but not at all unexpected. In response to the statement, “My firm has a competent leadership/management team,” the highest ratings came from the youngest, ages 18 to 25, and the oldest, 67 years and older.

In contrast, those between the ages of 26 and 35 provided responses aligning with the perception that they feel held back or limited from achieving their potential. This group gave the lowest score of any age bracket in response to questions about the competence of leadership and management.

Additional responses in our Best Firms To Work For survey where the 26 to 35 year old age group provided the lowest scores (meaning the least agreement with the statement) of any other age group further illustrate the point:

  • My firm has a trustworthy leadership/management team.
  • I feel positive relationships exist between employees and management at my firm.
  • If I have an idea or suggestion for improving the firm, management will listen, consider it, and respond.
  • My firm uses fairness and consistency in its policies and decisions.
  • I have fun and look forward to going to work.
  • My supervisor supports my efforts to succeed at work.
  • My firm strives to improve.
  • My level of authority accurately reflects my level of responsibility.
  • I have opportunities for career growth at my firm.
  • Management takes an interest in my professional development.

Additionally, this age range also rated every single one of the questions about compensation, work load, and work-life balance the absolute lowest of any other age group. This is too much data to ignore, and it’s important to underscore that this data is not from any one firm, nor is it a survey intended to gauge career satisfaction by age or for a specially selected group of angry millennials: These are survey responses from last year’s 142 Best Firms To Work For winners that Zweig Group simply spread based on age.

This is a “perception is reality” moment to consider how this generation feels at firms recognized for being an awesome place to work! The truth is, the individuals I referred to earlier may very well be “not ready yet” for the next role, but that’s not the point, nor is it an excuse for the data. While generalizations are normally inadvisable, the AEC industry needs to hear this one: We have got to figure out how to engage these young people at what should be an incredibly productive and exciting time in their professional development.

If you can’t convince them to join you, stand by while they beat you. Taking this industry-wide weakness and learning how to differentiate your company by turning it into a competitive advantage is the opportunity that this data presents. What can your firm do to be among the Best Firms To Work For for 26- to 35-year-olds?

Jamie Claire Kiser is director of advisory services at Zweig Group. Contact her at jkiser@zweiggroup.com.

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.