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Driving Change and Influencing a New Generation of AEC Professionals

Driving Change and Influencing a New Generation of AEC Professionals

By Luke Carothers

As is the case with many industries, the question for the AEC industry is how it can raise its profile in the eyes of a new generation of workers, attracting a new generation of innovative thinkers that will shape the future of the industry.  With the recent passage of the Infrastructure bill, there is a timely opportunity for the AEC industry to capitalize on increased funding to identify skilled people who can help firms design and construct these massive new infrastructure projects.  

Sofia Berger, a Senior Vice President and National Business Line Leader for Transportation at WSP, believes that, while the passage of the Infrastructure bill represents a tremendous opportunity in terms of job creation, it has to be weighed against the fact that the industry is already struggling to fill the positions that already exist.  According to Berger, this problem exists in both the private and public sectors, and was only exacerbated by an aging workforce that retired in huge numbers during the pandemic.  This means the demand for skilled professionals is hitting historic highs, but, as Berger notes, there simply isn’t a big enough pool to hire from.  In 2018, just over 14,000 college graduates received a degree in Civil Engineering.  This number seems daunting as many projections predict the Infrastructure bill to create upwards of 800,000 new jobs.  Berger points out that, while there are many more professionals other than civil engineers that will be included in this new number, it highlights just a small fraction of the problem the AEC industry is up against.  

Using metrics such as these, the problem becomes more defined, and solutions can be developed both in the short and long term.  For Berger, the immediate short term solution is to grow the talent pool by attracting professionals from similar industries.  In the long term, the AEC industry has to increase the talent pool not only by drawing professionals from other industries, but also by encouraging young people to consider entering the profession.  

Berger’s introduction to the profession was unique in that she was raised in a family of engineers.  This meant that, from an early age, she was aware of what the engineering profession consisted of.  However, many students growing up have little inclination of what engineers do or their impact on the world around them.

One of the defining features of the newest generation of workers is being highly mission driven.  For Berger, this is the perfect avenue for introducing new talent into the AEC industry.  By showing how the values, mission, and ethics of the engineering profession align with current college graduates, more and more people will be inclined to choose the profession.  Berger believes that a focus on how the work of engineers makes communities safer, better for the environment, and more livable.  This focus on equitable solutions to the problems our communities face can serve as a catalyst for attracting new people to the AEC industry.

Communities across the United States are facing looming issues–climate change, lack of public transportation, declining infrastructure, etc. – that will disproportionately affect the lives of younger people.  Many younger people believe that if these issues are not addressed in an equitable and timely manner, the future will look bleak.  Thus, demonstrating the role the AEC industry plays in solving these issues only broadens the number of people interested in joining the profession.  Berger believes that this will only be supported by the Infrastructure bill, which draws strong connections between infrastructure, climate change, and equity.

This focus on the mission and values of the AEC industry has to be supported by messaging and mediums that connect with the younger generation of workers.  Most apparently, this means harnessing the power of social media.  Berger believes that, by “meeting the younger generation where they are”, the AEC industry can capitalize by using social media platforms to talk about projects.  Firms in the AEC industry can use social media to contextualize their work, not only talking about the size and scope of projects but also their impact on the community and environment.   

In addition to capitalizing on the digital space to recruit new talent, Berger believes that there is a huge opportunity to use the profession’s tangibility in the same way.  The current trend shows many recent graduates going into the service, financial, and technology fields.  Berger believes that, by focusing on the inherent public nature of the profession, more people will be inclined to enter.  Unlike other industries, the AEC industry is largely outward facing, meaning that it affects the lives of many different people in the community.  By doing so, Berger projects that interest in careers in the AEC industry will increase, and this will change the conversation from the top down, influencing the way teachers, parents, and guidance counselors introduce students to the profession.

The Infrastructure bill has significant potential to change the way we introduce new workers to the profession and broaden the talent pool.  As the designers of the world around us, the AEC industry has a unique opportunity to leverage the resources and language of the Infrastructure bill to become the drivers of change when it comes to solving the issues of climate change and ailing infrastructure in an equitable way.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.