There has never been a better time to go into AEC (architecture, engineering, or construction). Not only has the need for infrastructure—such as water treatment facilities, roads, bridges, buildings, and power generation—never been greater, but the technology being applied to design, build, and operate infrastructure has also become more mature, easier to use, and more fun. However, there is a serious shortage of professionals with the required skills that need to be filled. We need to attract and train younger workers.
Infrastructure employers of all kinds—whether they employ designers, engineers, construction providers, or owner-operators—need to clearly convey what appeals to the workforce of today and tomorrow. Inc. Magazine asserts baby boomers were motivated by a paycheck and Gen Xers by career progression. According to Forbes, millennials are three times more likely to stay if they believe that their work is fulfilling. Gen Zers are similarly purpose-driven; according to a report by Lever, 42% of Gen Zers would choose a company with a sense of purpose over a company with more pay.
Providing clean drinking water, safe shelter, or efficient transportation and energy are higher callings that have the potential to make a significant difference in the quality of life for many—and the AEC industry is at the forefront of making those a reality. According to a recent study from Deloitte, the AEC industry is already delivering positive societal impacts, with 83% of AEC companies promoting sustainable design, development, and construction practices. Another 76% of them are encouraging the sustainable use of resources and new materials.
If we have a higher purpose that theoretically should attract young workers to our industry, what is the problem? The answer is that we do not communicate well or where we need to.
The industry needs to promote its purpose-driven, inclusive, cutting-edge image everywhere—and that means everywhere younger people are. In addition to talking about the cool work AEC professionals are doing on company websites and industry publications, they need to promote their work on social platforms, such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, as well as other spaces where potential hires communicate. There is nothing wrong with using social media for job postings, and the industry would benefit from the change. Looking into the future, companies also need to engage with colleges, universities, and high schools so that younger people can see how mission-driven and high-tech AEC firms can be.
Once we attract younger workers, we need to ensure they have the training they need to succeed at the job. The industry needs to support apprenticeships and other ways of exposing people to all the cool things we are doing. We also need to be sure we are providing training on not only construction techniques and other skilled trades, but also on emerging skills, such as using drones, LiDAR, photogrammetry, and other reality capture technologies. We should also not forget technical skill translation. We can hire data scientists, for instance, but we need to train them on how to apply that knowledge to infrastructure data, allowing them to understand what the data means and what insights might be useful. Similarly, we can hire artificial intelligence and machine learning specialists who understand how to train models, but we need to train those specialists on what various anomalies mean, such as whether a line on a picture is just a line or a crack and why that matters.
If we promote the higher purpose of our industry where Gen Z communicates and make sure we upskill them with applicable knowledge for our industry, we should be able to bridge the workforce gap. After all, who would not want to be part of building a better world for today, tomorrow, and future generations?
By: Claire Rutkowski, SVP and CIO Champion, Bentley Systems