Why AEC?

By Christy Zweig Niehues

The average person will spend 100,000 hours of their life working. So why choose AEC? Architects, engineers, environmental scientists, and also the marketing, accounting, and HR professionals who keep these businesses running, all likely have the intelligence, aptitude, and means to pursue a number of career paths, but chose this one. We’re a special group, those of us who work in the AEC industry, and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of the creation of the built environment that shapes our lives.

The events of the past few years have only made it more apparent that those working in the industry have a good degree of choice about where to live and work. Changes in policy brought on by the pandemic have caused many firms to embrace virtual work, and consequently opened a door to hire those who might not have previously been considered due to geographic constraints or their need for a flexible schedule. So why do those working in the industry choose the firms they work at?

One of the first questions on Zweig Group’s Best Firms To Work For employee survey asks employees about what factors are most important in their work experience. Overwhelmingly, culture is a clear top pick, followed by compensation, then professional development, and finally performance recognition. While it’s no surprise that culture is king, every person’s decision to work somewhere is a delicate interplay of all these different factors – ones that sometimes shift over the course of their career.

Providing more insight into this, Zweig Group’s newest survey, AEC Workforce of the Future, asks respondents, “Does your job now match your original career goals? If not, why not?” Fifty-eight percent of female respondents and 56 percent of male respondents stated that their current job matches their expectations. For those working in jobs that aren’t the best fit, 22 percent stated they took the job because they were afraid they would not get other offers. Smaller percentages of respondents stated that needing experience was their prime motivator, followed by an even smaller group who said they took their job just because they needed money.

Culture is hard to quantify, and it is a lot more than ping-pong tables and free sodas. It comprises all the individuals working at a firm, their attitudes toward work, and hundreds of policies, procedures, and benefits that go into creating the systems that make an individual feel as though they are succeeding or able to achieve their purpose at work.

Work is a lifestyle for many. Even for those working from home, work in the AEC industry is still “fun” with scores of an average of 4.2/5 (agreement on 1-5 scale) for employees at Zweig Group’s 2022 Best Firms To Work For Award winning firms.

The AEC Workforce survey asked respondents to rate the level of importance of various factors involved in their choice of workplace. It’s clear that personal connection at work is extremely important, with the highest rating scores tied for both statements, “It is important that people at my workplace will notice my efforts” and “It is important that I have a mentor at my organization.”

Looking at the environments that affect productivity, respondents rated very highly (score of 4.2/5), “I am more productive when I know other members of my team depend on me,” while “I am more productive when working by myself,” received a low score (2.9/5).

Authority is important because it gives people a feeling that they have a measure of control in their lives. Authority can be a motivator to move up in an organization and gives additional purpose to work. Those feeling that their level of responsibility is high, but that they have no authority to make decisions that impact their work environment, will feel overworked, frustrated, and may experience burnout. Looking back at the Best Firms To Work For, the employee survey asks individuals to rate their agreement with the statement, “My level of authority accurately reflects my level of responsibility.” While average scores for this were high (around 4.5/5), the results examined by race and age indicate some disparity, with African Americans (3.9/5) and those in the younger age group feeling less positive about this statement than older, white employees.

If you’re looking to improve recruitment or retention at your firm, look to some of the above slightly more intangible factors that are affecting your employee sentiment. Perks and benefits won’t fix a culture problem, but providing an environment where people feel that they can succeed in the way that is most important to them will.

The AEC Workforce of the Future Survey is still open for participation and any scores or responses cited in this article are based on current level of participation prior to the date of publication. Click here to participate in this survey, or contact us if you’d like to send it out to all members of your organization and receive a free report.


Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of research and e-commerce. She can be reached at czweig@zweiggroup.com.