SAN DIEGO — America’s construction owners have significantly reduced their in-house design, engineering, and construction management staffs during the recession, and don’t expect to return to prior staffing levels for many years, if at all. These are among the key findings of the 11th Annual Survey of Owners conducted by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) and FMI, a provider of management consulting and investment banking to the engineering and construction industry. More than 300 owners, across a wide range of markets and regions, responded to the survey, whose results were disclosed at the CMAA National Conference & Trade Show in San Diego on Monday, Oct. 4.

“In the view of more than half of all owners, diminished staff resources are a permanent condition," the survey reported. Even when owners begin to staff up again, survey respondents said they expect to try to meet their workforce needs by hiring less expensive staff, hiring retirees, or recruiting current staff to stay on the job past their expected retirement dates.

"The trends described in this report will profoundly affect owners’ ability to manage projects effectively," the survey stated. "As a result, owners will increasingly be faced with a choice: scale back their capital design and construction activities (at the risk of compromising mission), risk suboptimal outcomes as a result of staff overwork, or find additional resources outside of their organization.

"How owners perceive and implement these choices will continue to shape the practice of professional construction and program management long after the current economic downturn is past. Indeed, these permanent changes in the business environment may be the recession’s most lasting and important legacy."

Specifically, the CMAA/FMI Owners Survey found:
• About half of all owners experienced some level of significant staffing reduction in the last 24 months. This includes 18 percent who said their staffs were down by more than 20 percent.
• Owners have reduced staff through attrition (38 percent), layoffs (32 percent), early retirements (19 percent), and mandated unpaid time off (11 percent).
• More than 40 percent of owners expect to resume hiring either in 2013 or later (14 percent) or never (28 percent).
• When hiring resumes in the future, 56 percent of owners expect to have to rely on alternative strategies like retention beyond retirement, using part-timers, hiring more junior staff, and hiring from competitor and consultant workforces.

In the long run, the survey says, "Opportunities exist for more dramatic involvement by all types of service providers earlier in the process. The reported reduction in staffing and difficulty in finding future staff creates a host of opportunities for visionary service providers to step in and fill this void as the health of the construction industry improves."

At the CMAA National Conference, FMI Principal Mark Bridgers presented the survey findings, which were then discussed by an owner panel consisting of Neil Drucker, Los
Angeles Parks Department; Robert Stundtner, Cornell University; Stephen Ayers, AIA,
Architect of the Capitol; Marcia Hurd-Wade, city of Atlanta-Watershed Management; and
Mark Hellstern, Tennessee Valley Authority-Nuclear Generation. Copies of the full survey report will be available through CMAA and FMI websites in mid-October.

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