Brick by Brick: How to Inspire the Next Rising Star

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By John Bray

“I avoid grandiose plans. I start with a small piece that I can do. I go to the root of the problem and then work around it. It’s building brick by brick.” – Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Award Winner

It is no secret that the AEC industry has been experiencing a labor shortage for the last 15+ years.  My work at Zweig Group as an Advisor to both Executive Search and Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) clients has given me a unique perspective on how growing companies have tried to combat these forces through both organic and inorganic growth (also known as M&A).

The issue predominantly began following the financial crisis of 2008, where many Engineering companies were forced to lay off large portions of their employees due to the negative effects of the recession.  This problem has been exacerbated in recent years by low numbers of graduating students that have entered the AEC industry.

How do we reverse this trend and inspire the current generation of students to become the next generation of impactful Engineers?  There are a number of ways to get involved as you will see below but, to get to the root of the problem, it’s building brick by brick.

Our mission at Zweig Group is to Elevate the AEC Industry.  One of the five tenets of this mission is to Celebrate the incredible achievements of firms and individuals within our industry.  While Chief Executives and rapidly growing firms deserve a lot of the praise; we believe it is equally important, if not more so, for Engineering firms to recognize and celebrate the achievements of their younger staff members as well.

Zweig Group’s Rising Stars Award gives Engineering companies the opportunity to nominate their talented young staff members to receive recognition for the positive impact they are having on the Civil and Structural Engineering Community.

In honor of this year’s Rising Stars Award Winners, here are a few ways that your firm can start (or continue) to take action and encourage young people to pursue a career in Civil or Structural Engineering.  Who knows, they could even turn into a Zweig Group Rising Star at your firm one day.

1. Celebrate the achievements of young people in your company – how does your firm treat younger, less experienced employees?  Are they an afterthought or a top priority?  In what ways do you show them that they are a critical aspect of your future success?  You should be nominating your young staff members for awards like Zweig Group’s Rising Stars and others; share their accomplishments on LinkedIn and other social media; give admiration and personal shout-outs internally after a job well done.  You need to be doing everything you can to show the next generation of engineers that young people in our industry are doing some really cool stuff, and that they could join the movement.

2. Encourage a culture of diversity and inclusion within your firm and the AEC industry.  According to a survey of Generation Z students that was released by Monster in April 2022 – 33 percent of college graduates in 2021 and 2022 would not even apply for a job if they did not see a company’s commitment to diversity in the job posting.  Additionally, roughly a quarter of respondents said they would not apply for a position if they did not see diversity in leadership (26 percent), and women in leadership roles (24 percent). When college graduates are looking at your website, job posting, etc. – how would your company fare in these areas?  Are you doing everything you can to foster an inclusive environment and promote diversity within all levels of your organization?  These are absolutely things that the next generation of Engineers will be looking for in their future employers.

3. Highlight the positive impact that your firm’s projects have on the environment – young people, STEAM students especially, care more about preserving our planet perhaps more than anything else.  They want to play a role in creating positive environmental change on Earth.  As Civil and Structural Engineers, your firms have a profound impact in shaping the sustainable society of the future.  That is an incredibly exciting opportunity for anyone who is making a decision on their future career path.  Are you committed to sustainability as a company?  Is there more you can do to engrain that commitment into your culture?  What are you doing to highlight and market the positive impact that your firm has on the environment?

4. Be active in your local student communities – I recently had the opportunity to be a presenting speaker at the Highland Park High School Science and Technology Festival in March 2022.  I was surprised to see that none of the other 30 or so speakers at the event were from Civil or Structural Engineering companies, in spite of the fact that Dallas’ feats of modern engineering are often lauded in media and publications.  What is your firm doing to connect with young students who are trying to decide on a future career path?

5. Enhance your branding and marketing – When was the last time you spruced up your logo and marketing messages?  What type of investments has your firm made in Marketing over the last 3-5 years?  Young people don’t want to work for a firm with a stale message and outdated look.  It is important to take adequate time to develop and implement a thoughtful marketing strategy.  Hire a branding consultant; study successful brands both within and outside of the AEC industry; constantly assess and improve your mission, vision, and values to ensure they are indicative of the culture you want to embrace. You need to make it a priority to create a company brand that is unique and captures the attention of the next generation.

This issue may not be one that can be solved immediately but, by taking these steps and continuing to be intentional about our connections with aspiring students, I believe our industry can start to build the next generation of inspired, impactful engineers.  Brick by brick.


John Bray is an M&A Advisor at Zweig Group. If you want to talk, reach out at jbray@zweiggroup.com.

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