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Gen Z in AEC

Gen Z in AEC

Gen Z, buzzword short for Generation Z, people born between 1995 to 2010

By Luke Carothers

The future of the AEC industry has never been more important than it is right now.  As the AEC industry searches for solutions to its biggest problems–climate change, transportation inequity, outdated infrastructure, etc.–we are still struggling to recruit and retain younger workers.  As we search for the solutions to the larger problems of the built environment, an increased capacity to attract these younger workers may result in creative solutions to those problems.

According to Dave Lee, Product Director for Deltek Talent Management, recruiting will remain a key challenge for firms in 2023.  Lee believes that skilled labor shortages, along with challenges in attracting younger generations to the workplace, are top of the mind for firms.  As some industries go through layoffs, a high number of AEC firms are finding that recruiting “good” candidates is still their top recruiting challenge.  Lee also believes that engagement is proving to be an equal challenge.  Firms are working to understand the modern workforce and implement strong career development, succession planning, and additional forms of employee engagement to appeal and retain employees.  

For the AEC industry, the solution to many of these challenges can be found in investments in programs that specifically attract Gen Z professionals.  Lee believes that this is a unique challenge, in that Gen Z are “relationship and life experience champions.”  For Lee, this means they seek to work for organizations whose values and ethos align with their own.  This manifests in a desire to be heard as well as freedom of expression, mobility, and hybrid work arrangements.  Lee believes that the first step to recruiting and retaining young talent is to build these elements into your organization’s culture.  While the first step in improving recruiting programs is modernizing your firm culture to accommodate the younger generation of workers, it must also be paired with the ability to then communicate that brand to the market.

To build a brand that attracts younger workers, firms should “creatively [meet] young talent at intermediate/high schools and promote opportunities within the industry and their respective organizations.”  This is a strong way to identify the priorities future talent expects of an organization, which will in turn help them demonstrate “things that align with this generation” such as the use of modern technology, work cultures that focus on building relationships, sustainability projects, collaborative work processes, and work/life balance.  By demonstrating the aspects of the AEC industry through a modern lens, firms will attract Gen Z talent who are excited to work on these types of projects.

According to Lee, data suggests that by 2025, roughly 25-30 percent of the workforce will be Gen Z, which represents a clear demographic influence.  This shift aligns with a clear industry need as well.  As fields like architecture have shifted to digital formats within only the last few decades, new generations will be more proficient with technology, and will bring their skills to the field.  Attracting the younger generation of talent is a way of supporting the digital growth of these fields.  

Furthermore, Gen Z is highly collaborative and values diversity, which, Lee believes, means that their desire to socialize ideas and concepts and bring different streams of thought to projects will boost innovation.  Embedded in this is also Gen Z’s consciousness of the human environmental toll, which signals a desire to promote green practices and influence sustainability.  

As the AEC industry faces challenges stemming from climate change and outdated infrastructure, the ability to attract and retain workers from Gen Z and subsequent generations is fundamental to creating a better future when it comes to the built environment.  As new technologies emerge–generative AI, virtual reality, IoT, etc.–Lee believes that it’s important to remember that these technologies are not designed to replace the human element, but expand capabilities and synthesize data to create more intelligent projects.  The ultimate goal of which is to solve challenges and improve the condition of the built environment for generations to come.  To achieve these goals, the AEC industry must continue to forge paths for younger workers to enter the industry and bridge the gap towards our future goals.

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.