The continuing slow-growth economy has already created tighter budgets and stricter schedules for architects, engineers and contractors. Add in a looming shortage of talent as Baby Boomer employees start to retire in expected record numbers—and the issue escalates into a serious problem.
While there seems to be no silver bullet for this dilemma, the good news for firmsis that young professionals often referred to as Generation Y or Millennials, have skills rooted in entrepreneurship, technology, and collaboration—skills that can help counter some of the sector’s emerging challenges.
For many Millennials, there is no reminiscing on the industry’s “good times.” Fewer bidding successes, thinner margins and fiercer competition experienced over the last few years are all that most of us have ever known.
Under these pressures, young professionals in the start-up phase of their careers have been forced to learn very quickly that differentiation is key to finding employment and being successful in a vast sea of competitors.
For established firms, differentiation has also become very important to business health today as many companies continue to grapple with challenges in finding steady and profitable work. Years ago, when AEC sectors were red hot, firms could often look to their decades-old relationships for virtually guaranteed work from just a small handful of clients.
Today, times are much different and tight constraints on capital mean that price is a hugely important factor. This suggests that even if a firm with a well-established reputation for quality charges a premium for a service, it needs to be able to back up that price with the data to show what clients are getting for their hard-earned dollars.
Millennials can do a lot to help firms communicate to clients what makes their products and services unique, and in some cases, a little more expensive.
Step-by-step diagrams describing specialized delivery methods, eye-catching photo montages of past project successes and comparative graphs showcasing potential cost savings are some simple deliverables that can lead to big successes for firms.
As companies begin to rethink how they will chase new markets, form partnerships with other organizations or market themselves to potential clients in this competitive new age, those that can effectively leverage the skills and passions of these young professionals will thrive.
Nothing can replace decades of experience that a designer, engineer or contractor can bring to a client for a complicated, high-value project. But young professionals well-versed in the language of new technologies can bring a different kind of advantage.
This is not the first time that our industry has experienced a major tech revolution. In the 1980s and 1990s, labor-intensive, hand-drawn drafting techniques used in the industry for many decades were quickly replaced by Computer-Aided Design (CAD) technology. Requiring fewer drafting technicians and much less time, it helped to significantly streamline the design and construction process.
Jump ahead to today and we see that huge advances in Building Information Modeling (BIM), file management systems and data visualization technology is spurring a new revolution. The biggest obstacle that managers face today is choosing and implementing the right solutions to help their organizations grow.
Fortunately, Millennials are entering the job market well-versed in how to leverage sophisticated software programs, time-saving mobile applications and other technology that can boost project team connections and efficiency better than ever before.
Eager to learn, teach...and share
Millennials who don’t know how to do something, ask. Sure they may go to a fellow employee or call a helpline, but they are likely also to leverage a deeper well of knowledge that collects around global search engines, niche blog sites and the personal connections in their own social networks.
Having spent their highly social university years during the high-growth periods of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, young professionals have a pretty good grasp on how to use this technology.
In the past few years, social media sites have grown beyond just places for birthday pictures and baby announcements to become very valuable marketing and recruiting tools—even for the historically “quiet” AEC sector.
Over the next few years and beyond, companies that can develop thoughtful social media campaigns will find advantages in both recruiting and business development. The firms that choose to ignore social media, however, tread a very thin line, especially if they try to recruit the young professionals who are often deeply, if not inseparably, connected to it.
But firms that choose to embrace social media also must realize that while young professionals may have the most technical knowledge, they also must be taught to be sensitive to an organization’s core values and overall brand before shot-gunning potentially confidential information or conflicting brand messages across the World Wide Web.
It is imperative to form a working partnership between culture-sensitive managers and tech-savvy social media operators so Millennials become stewards of the brand in a new age of technology.
With coaching, young professionals can work with veteran managers on strategies to receive client permissions before posting project details, address poor web reviews and testimonials or attract qualified candidates to online job postings.
With this collaborative approach, executives can mentor young professionals on a company’s vision, and in-turn, learn from Millennials how and why it is important for their firms to ‘Like,’ ‘Tweet’ and ‘Share’ online content.
By creating a controlled stream of quality information, firms can communicate to potential clients and job candidates that their organizations are very cognizant of and contributing to the industry around them.
In the years to come, having a well-executed social media strategy will be more than just another box to check—it will be a defining point that will help separate the top industry competitors from all the other firms.
Ralph Motto is a business analyst (and a Millennial) at Chicago-based contractor Graycor Services LLC and a former project manager, with five years of AEC industry experience. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.