One positive trend we’ve seen in the design industry is that there has been less resistance to hiring older workers. Perhaps this is due to the extreme labor shortage that we’re likely to see continue for some time. Whatever the reason, it’s a good thing in my opinion. Older workers bring the following traits that can help millennials who are entering the workforce.
1) Knowledge. What do Architecture, Engineering, Planning, and Environmental Consulting firms sell? The knowledge and skills of their staff. People who have been in this industry for 30+ years have a lot that can be shared, but once it’s gone, there are just not enough young people coming into the industry fast enough to replace the experience that their mentors have to offer.
2) Loyalty. Perhaps it’s fear of being unable to find employment, but for whatever reason, older workers tend to leave jobs far less often than their younger counterparts. Money is still a motivator; however, based on my conversations with candidates over 50, money is rarely the main motivator for these folks.
3) Soft skills. The biggest demand we see from AEC firms is for people with very strong interpersonal communication skills. Firms can find the technical talent they need, but having people who can communicate with all levels of organizations is extremely important. Soft skills are often lacking in many millennials today.
A lot of millennials, although certainly not all, question the need for face to face or telephone communications. They may also question why design work must be done at the office, as they would prefer to do their work at a “Starbucks” in today’s virtual world.
Both generations have points. Lots of design work can probably be completed outside the office, and firms accommodating demands for flex-time are seeing benefits when it comes to retaining younger staff. But interpersonal relationships are still quite important in business, and nothing is better than “face to face” communication to facilitate teamwork and trust, which are required for many projects.
Many older workers “get this” and can offer their younger counterparts teachable moments in these areas of business operations. Clients want people they can trust, and those who know how to communicate are more likely to facilitate that trust, and win new work as a result.
Soft skills are by far the biggest need we hear from AEC firm owners. While there are some younger Architects, Engineers, Planners, and Landscape Architects who have strong interpersonal communication skills, we generally find that far more older workers already have these skills. Many firm leaders understand this as well, which means, at least for a while, highly skilled AEC workers over 50 should have few problems securing employment should they wish to continue working.
We can always tell when someone coming to us is over that magical age of 50. We’ll see many prospective recruits hide their age by not disclosing employment or graduation dates in their resumes. They will also use statements like “more than 15 years of experience” instead of “30 or more,” so they don’t look too old.
Some older workers, understandably, fear that they’ll automatically be discarded because they are likely to be more expensive than younger counterparts. However, that should not exclude many of them in a lot of cases because even when many older workers are more expensive, we’re seeing that design firms feel that their skills are worth additional investments. This is because there just aren’t enough people to replace what they can bring to the table.