Daniel Stoddard, PE


Raise your hand if you’re having a hard time finding the right talent for your firm. Now raise your hand if you’re tired of reading about how hard it is to find the right talent for your firm.

We all get it: Hiring talented engineers is a challenge in today’s economy. Hiring engineers who have 10 to 15 years of experience yet who also remain interested in hands-on design/production work is especially challenging. The economy is solid and expanding. Our skills are in demand. And for companies like Prime, it takes time to find talent–time we don’t always have.

What are our options? How can we address this talent gap? How can we find the elusive engineering Unicorns?

First, let’s understand the problem.

According to ManpowerGroup’s 2018 Talent Shortage Survey, engineers are the third-hardest job to fill in the country, right behind sales reps and just ahead of drivers. Reasons why finding engineers is so challenging include:

  • Baby Boomers continue to leave the workforce in record numbers
  • Boomers’ departure was accelerated by the last recession when (especially) older workers either left the industry for a different career or quit the workforce completely
  • Too few engineering graduates (i.e., fewer job applicants)
  • Greater restrictions on immigration, which has led to fewer international students attending US colleges and universities and fewer H-1B visas being granted
  • A clear lack of women in STEM fields and in engineering in particular

“The number of recent STEM graduates simply doesn’t fill the significant increase in engineering-based opportunities,” said George Opitz, President of Brightwing Recruiting, “nor is it sufficient to replace the gap left by those who are retiring.” In other words, experienced engineers are riding into the retirement sunset and leaving a talent void and skills gap that’s both structural and policy driven.

But hiring continues out of sheer necessity and shows no signs of slowing down. A survey by Tech-Clarity found that 69% of the companies they surveyed expect to hire more engineers over the next decade. The five fastest-growing engineering occupations are:

  • Civil
  • Mechanical
  • Industrial
  • Electrical
  • Electronics

Does any of this ring true for you…because it certainly does for me. The problem is magnified when you overlay the challenge of finding talented people who have notable industry experience and who haven’t become niche experts.

But there are things we can do to address this challenge. Here are my top seven ways to help you find more engineering Unicorns:

  • Don’t get overly specific in your job descriptions. Sometimes we write ads looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Keep some degree of flexibility and remember that outstanding talent doesn’t always fit neatly into a particular niche.
  • Work your networks like you’ve never worked them before, because you’re seeking people who are already successfully employed. Talk to your peers. Attend conferences, seminars, and webinars. Stay attuned to LinkedIn and other professional forums. All of these activities can help you locate talent that might not be interested in answering your job postings.
  • Continually refine what differentiates your firm in the marketplace. If your posting sounds like it could be from anybody, you’ve not distinguished yourself in a competitive environment.
  • Be respectful. Gone are the days when employers held all the cards. Be on time for interviews. Answer questions sincerely. Value different perspectives. And ensure that your language and behavior are welcoming. It’s a new world, and old bromides will sharply diminish your ability to hire top talent.
  • Be prepared to pay. It probably wasn’t like this when you entered the AEC industry, but the marketplace has evolved and it’s a candidate’s market. There’s no need to be extravagant, but consider the opportunity cost of unfilled positions in a market with strong demand for our services.
  • Know what makes great candidates tick. Do they insist on working from home? Do they crave complex challenges? Are they community oriented? Listening to what motivates them will ensure that you’ll take appropriate steps to bring them into your environment.
  • Appreciate your best recruiters–your employees. A quick glance at reviews on GlassDoor, LinkedIn, Yelp, or Twitter shows that the world can be a snarky place. One disgruntled employee can roil the waters quite nicely. But if you consistently seek to create an open and candid work environment, reward success more than political connections, and admit your own mistakes as quickly as you point out others’ errors, you’ll have employees who value where they work and might even write positive comments on their own.

As we all know, these are challenging and exciting times in the AEC industry. Most of us are better off today than we were five years ago. But with that financial success comes the stress of recruiting, hiring, and–most importantly–retaining the type of talent we need to sustain and enhance our current success.

I hope that these tips help you find your own Unicorns. When you do, drop me a note at DStoddard@Prime-Eng.com and let me know how you did it.

Happy Hunting.

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