Old School

Earlier this year, I connected a soon-to-be-graduate with her first full-time industry job (with a terrific firm). I made my global C-suite network available to her, and she leveraged that as well as other resources to find a position that matched her specific specialty (sustainable design) and geographic (West Coast major metro) preferences. She made her final choice of employer from the beach in Bali (stay with me here…) where she was sojourning after her final exams and completed all of the job “paperwork” electronically via DocuSign from a beach resort.

I was struck by the enormity of the differences between how she pursued her first job (scanning company websites, Zoom interviews, Bali, sojourning…) and my original job hunt some 37 years ago in 1986. In subsequent conversations with a number of CEOs who are in and around my vintage (barely this side of 60), we got to talking about how very different the industry is now from when we started our careers in the Old School 1980s.

Classifieds: There were no websites or online job boards. In their place was the massive Sunday newspaper with its classified jobs pull-out section. The motherlode of career intelligence (and sports). Its pages increased and shrank with the economy. If you were looking for a job, that’s how you found it. The bonus was you got to read the Sunday comics while doing your job search. If you were lucky, the classified ad had a name and address of a company to mail your resume and cover letter (how quaint) to. If not, you were sending it blind to a P.O. box. Instead of scanning a website to see the company you were applying to, you used your rotary phone to call your uncle’s friend who used to work there to find out what it was like.

Bonuses: My first job was $22,880 per year based on “2,080 working hours.” In 1986, there was no discussion of signing bonuses. Compare that to today’s environment for new graduates where signing bonuses in many cases are now a standard part of any job offer along with an array of other benefits (gym memberships, Uber passes, etc.) that were unheard of 30 years ago.

Timesheets: Daily, I filled out a paper timesheet (which looked like it had been hand-stenciled for a completely different company, then adjusted, and then photocopied for us to use). Every Friday, I brought this to my supervisor to be “approved.” (Not being in the “rising leader” category of professionals, this was typically my only interaction with my boss.) I then brought this single sheet of paper that meticulously documented my valuable labor to the “Admin Department.” I gave it to “the timesheet person,” and I never saw it again, except when it turned out that I had entered time incorrectly on it (see below).

Mistakes: I made a lot of themespecially when filling out my timesheet. But luckily there was the miracle product Wite-Out that could be slathered over errant half hours charged to projects and make them magically disappear. The Wite-Out family of products (including Wite-Out Tape, which required a level of manual dexterity way beyond what I could muster) was essential to career survival. 

Business casual: This concept didn’t exist. You wore a tie and jacket and slacks to work every day—without exception. There was no casual Friday where you could saunter around the office in jeans. God forbid. This created a great divide in firms between those who chose to spend on dry cleaning and those who … well “self-cleaned.” The preferred management outfit was an ill-fitting, short-sleeved shirt with a breast pocket to carry pens and pencils that could be used to correct drawings, approve timesheets, and “sign off” on requests at the drop of a hat.

Office hours: Didn’t matter if you lived five hundred yards, five miles, or fifty miles from the office. You took the train, rode the bus, drove your car, biked, walked, or carpooled yourself there every day—Monday through Friday. And you made sure to get there on time—which was either 8 AM, 8:30 AM, or 9 AM (the latter I discovered to my amazement was indeed the start time in some architectural offices). And the only way you left the office before 5 PM was if you had a medical appointment or some other “authorized” excuse.  

Communications: The ultimate flex was to have a phone with a “speaker” on your desk. All the managers on “mahogany row” had them (although the running joke was that they didn’t know how to use them). It never failed that when you tried to push the series of buttons that you had taped on a sheet of paper on your cubicle wall to “forward” an important call from a client to a colleague, you would cut them off and forever damage your reputation as someone halfway competent.  

The library: An actual room with wall-to-wall three-ring binders and spiral-bound paper reports, some of which were important practice references (MUTCD, etc.) required for design practices. Others were reports of past studies or projects completed by the firm or peer firms. The only time it was curated was when some unpaid summer intern was assigned to “clean it up.”

Knowledge: There was no Google. No cloud. No ERP with access to project or personnel or client information or AI predictive analytics. No, as horrible and inefficient as it sounds, you had to go and seek out your “manager” or other “expert” to (gasp) have a conversation and “ask questions” in person of them (forget texting or emailing, that came a whole decade later) to gain the knowledge to allow you to do your job. How did we survive? 

Deliverables: This was the BEST part of my job. When it came time for a report or set of drawings to be delivered to the client, it actually required physically bringing the paper product to them. Given my general inability to perform as expected when it came to core engineering functions (designing, calculations, QA/QC, etc.), I was the go-to guy for “delivering.” I saw this as a great adventure. I got to leave the office, explore new places, and meet new people, all the while making sure not to exceed the hours assigned in the project Gannt chart for “deliver report.”  

Productivity: In the late ’80s, desktops were still a new-fangled technology. Sure, we had massive CADD stations—each the size of a Ford Fiesta—that we used for design and drafting. But work was still largely done with pen and paper—reports were typed or word-processed by administrative staff.  

The future: Little did we know back then the massive advances that lay in our future in the 1990s—Lotus 1-2-3 (What’s an array?!); WordPerfect with its world of “Control Alt” suite of commands; cell phones (way to lose that call going into a tunnel!) and, for a brief shining moment, Blackberries (I still miss playing Brickbreaker while ignoring calls when waiting for a delayed flight).

Questions or comments? What are the biggest differences you see in the industry today compared with when you started? Email or call Mick Morrissey at [email protected] or 508.380.1868.

New School

Sticking with the theme of change from Mick Morrissey’s article, I thought I’d share with you the highlights of several university admission tours my family took last week as my daughter approaches her college years. It’s quite interesting to see what higher ed institutions are emphasizing and prioritizing these days, and to contemplate the resulting values and mindsets that are being instilled in their students (i.e., the vast majority of your future employees). It got me thinking about the wide-ranging implications for the AE industry and whether AE firms will be able to successfully adapt their organizations to their future employees.

Anyway, here are seven things I experienced on the tours and their implications for the AE industry:

1. Discussions of diversity—early and often.
Each tour started with a presentation front-end loaded with diversity statistics, including how many students you will meet on campus from different states and different countries, etc. But the discussion of diversity didn’t stop there. Learning diversity, for example, was also underscored. Students who may have utilized Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504s throughout their K-12 education were assured access to specialized learning and tutoring centers that would cater to their specific needs, giving them the opportunity to maximize their academic development. Gender diversity is also embraced, as college campuses feature various groups that help students feel more acclimated and involved. Most important to note is that diversity wasn’t being promoted as a differentiator; rather it’s seen to be more of a table stake—a box that these universities continually make sure is checked.

The implication:
Increasingly, new employees won’t see diverse AE firms as upholding special values. They will only see a lack of values in the ones that don’t have it. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and more are being baked into everyday life for students, and that’s the mindset that’s increasingly coming into your workforce.

2. The choice is yours.
No, this is not about choosing between working from home and the office. Instead, it’s about providing students with the opportunity to choose from a wider range of electives and mixing and matching majors and minors in just about any configuration. Even the engineering schools are loosening their curriculum-driven grip. A tour guide from one of the universities we visited is a senior mechanical engineering student (sorry folks, she’s getting a job offer this week) who told us while the engineering program is a bit more “strict” compared to other programs in terms of available electives, it’s still a relatively wide-open range.

The implication:
The new workforce will take on more and more responsibility for what they will continue to learn. Command-and-control AE firms won’t be able to attract and retain the best of the bunch. Firms that promote responsible autonomy (trusting and expecting that professionals will use their autonomy responsibly) will land and keep the smartest, hardest-working employees.

3. Health—physical and mental—is a big deal.
Whether it was tours of the various gyms, walk-throughs of the dining halls (featuring every kind of food you could think of), or visits to the various health facilities, student physical and mental health is a top priority. It’s a holistic approach that focuses on the whole person. For example:

  • There are all kinds of physical fitness programs available—most of which would probably land me in the hospital.
  • Those with special dietary needs are encouraged to speak with the head of food services, and their needs will easily be accommodated.
  • Resident assistants and other resources are available around the clock for students who are homesick or dealing with a roommate issue.

Today, it’s not just about academics and graduation. These universities are taking the entire student into account.

The implication:
Just like it’s not just about academics and graduation at universities, it’s not just about getting work out the door at AE firms. Progressive companies will continue to evolve their organizations in ways that consider the entire person, personally and professionally.

4. Nobody’s too big, and nobody’s too small.
At one of the universities we visited, the new president is more likely to be found on campus conversing with students than in his office tied up in endless meetings. He’s trying to create a community that closely connects faculty with students, and he’s leading by example. 

The implication:
Ivory towers are not only going out of style, they’ll soon be extinct in high-performing AE firms. Leaders in mission-driven firms accept that they are just one of many who have a job to do, and they understand that respect for others is fundamental to success.

5. Teaching and mentoring happens as much, if not more, outside the classroom than it does inside. 
A low professor-to-student ratio was highlighted in each of the schools we visited, as was professor availability. Students are encouraged to build strong relationships with the faculty and get the most out of their learning experience.

The implication:
The new workforce will expect to continue those beneficial relationships in their professional careers, and if they don’t find them at your firm, they’ll go elsewhere.

6. Welcome centers do what they are supposed to do—welcome
Universities have entire buildings dedicated to welcoming prospective and new students. Admissions departments feature recent graduates who roll out the welcome wagon for one and all, and they do a pretty darn good job at it. Within a couple of hours, you get a very good idea of what the entire university experience entails, from academics to student life to school spirit and overall vibe. The entire smorgasbord is put on display in a well-thought-out way. 

The implication:
What does your welcome wagon look like? Do you have one? What are your orientation and onboarding programs like? Just know that the new workforce will already have experienced both by the time they walk through your door (real or virtual) for the first time. How well you integrate them into your organization will have a big impact on whether they see their employment with your company as a long-term commitment or a steppingstone.

7. Your future employees are going to cost a lot, and they already know it.
Sorry to end the list on a down note, but one of our tour guides told me that one of their junior year students has already received a job offer with a starting salary in the six figures (see Mick Morrissey’s starting salary at his first job in the previous article).

The implication:
I’ll simply borrow Clubber Lang’s one-word line from Rocky III when he was asked to predict the outcome of his rematch with Rocky—“Pain.”

Will your firm be ready for the new workforce? They’ll be at your door in no time—even faster than it took my daughter to go from learning how to walk to looking at colleges (and that went by in a flash).

Every day, Morrissey Goodale helps AE firms prepare for a new workforce. For more information, call Mark Goodale at 508.254.3914 or email to [email protected].

Market Snapshot: Bridges (Part 2)

Weekly market intelligence data and insights for AE firm leaders.

Last week’s post featured overview, size, and outlook information about the bridges market. If you missed it, you can check it out here. This week we will cover drivers, trends, and hot spots.

  • Bridge infrastructure aging and deterioration
  • Population growth and geographical dispersal
  • Federal, state, and local government transportation funding
  • Price of cement
  • Private nonresidential and residential construction
  • New design and construction methods contribute to increased bridge service life.
    • Different techniques for accelerated bridge construction and prefabrication reduce onsite construction and minimize mobility impacts.
    • Advanced materials like self-healing concrete and high-performance steel and coatings can help extended the useful life of bridge structures.
  • Advanced bridge assessments and inspection techniques can help improve accuracy and reduce labor time.
    • UAVs, LiDAR, and thermography tools are changing the way bridge evaluations are done. These non-destructive methods are leading to safer processes while reducing the need for post-processing with the use of edge devices and machine learning.
  • Bridge Information Modeling (BrIM) software produces advanced 3D models that allow for not only improved graphical and geotechnical representation, but also greater collaboration among stakeholders. When combined with various sources of data (i.e., LiDAR, IoT sensors, GPS, SCADA systems), bridge information modeling enables efficiencies in areas beyond design and construction, becoming a key component for asset management programs.
  • In addition to making smarter technical and business decisions about when and how to perform work on bridges, more focus is being placed by the industry on efforts to reduce embodied carbon (EC) in bridge structures. 
Hot Spots
  • States with structurally deficient (SD) bridges (Source: FHWA):
    • Top five states in number of SD bridges: Iowa, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
    • Top five states in percentage of SD bridges: West Virginia, Iowa, South Dakota, Rhode Island, and Maine.
    • Top five states in SD bridges area as a percentage of total state area: Rhode Island, West Virginia, Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts.
  • New federal bridge programs (BFP and BIP) started with the IIJA will make $43 billion dollars available in funding.

To learn what’s ahead for other markets, check out Morrissey Goodale’s 2023 Market Outlook for the AE Industry. Click here to access recording and materials.

To learn more about market intelligence and research services offered by Morrissey Goodale, schedule an intro call with Rafael Barbosa. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Weekly M&A Round Up

Congratulations to AG&E (Dallas, TX): The nationally recognized structural engineering company acquired Structural Detailing (Brentwood, TN) and Balata, both structural design and detailing companies. This acquisition brings the addition of over 100 professionals and puts AG&E in the company of some of the largest structural design firms in the United States, continuing the march towards an increasingly national and international footprint. We’re thankful that the AG&E team trusted us to advise them on this transaction.

Pace of consolidation continues to slow down: Domestic deal activity over the latest 12 months is down 6%. Last week we reported nine new domestic deals in total with transactions announced in TN, CO, WI, TX, GA, OH, WA, MA, and DE. Global transactions took place in Romania, The Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Hungary, and Canada. You can check all of last week’s M&A news here.


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