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Culture is key for millennials in architecture, engineering

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Look around in today's workplace and it is very obvious that today's workforce is undergoing significant fundamental changes. Every day we observe that:

10,000 baby boomers are turning 65, and there is a growing number of them heading into retirement.

Gen Xers are running businesses and organizations.

Millennials (the oldest now in their early 30s) are preparing to and moving into the business mainstream, including in architectural and engineering firms.

The diversity of generations in the workplace and successfully navigating this personnel change is a real challenge to the architectural and engineering community.

Today's architectural and engineering offices provide evidence that walls are coming down and floor space is opening up into trendy new designs. Where small break-areas used to be common, now there are cafés and lounge areas that offer employees a relaxing escape.

Workdays are sometimes cut short to accommodate volunteer work by employees. It is more common for employees to occasionally telecommute.

Millennials are the real driving force behind these changes. Millennials typically include anyone born between 1982-and the early 2000s. There are about 80 million millennials, and they are taking on the workforce.

While baby boomers and Gen X made up more than half of the workforce a few years ago, studies indicate that by 2020 they will be outnumbered by millennials.

The architectural and engineering community is a completely different industry today than it was at the time the previous generations entered the workplace. This means the work environment needs to adapt, and architects and engineers who are running companies need to be prepared for the millennials.

Millennials are inspired by completely different factors than their predecessors and tend to be most productive in environments that foster creativity and self-expression.

In past generations, it was normal to work for one company for a very long time. However, that is not the case with millennials.

A 2012 survey showed that a millennial expects to stay at a job for less than five years. Knowing this, employers of millennial architects and engineers need to be concerned about future turnover among millennials, since this surely will become a factor at about the time when many baby boomers will be entering retirement.

The architectural and engineering industry is constantly evolving and sees increasing competition. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what inspires the millennial architectural and engineering talent and to be prepared to retain and recruit needed employees.

Preparing for millennials requires being proactive and providing very important items. Some of these include:

A flexible schedule.

A 2013 study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers showed that 64 percent of millennials like to occasionally work from home. Today's technology makes telecommuting easy and efficient, while also enabling real-time communication, file sharing and meeting facilitation with anyone at the office.

A flexible schedule will help keep a millennial satisfied with his or her job and will enhance the feeling that management is understanding and caring. This also builds confidence in leadership, which is essential to higher architectural and engineering retention rates.

A clear understanding of the company's vision, mission and core values.

Millennials need to hear and see that the company's vision, mission and core values are stressed in all the company does. They want to work for a company with strong values.

Millennials want to make a difference and seek to become involved in community service through volunteering and outreach efforts.

Career advancement.

Millennials look for a path for advancement in their company. They are eager to learn as much as possible about their field, and they want to be fairly compensated.

It is important to provide an understanding of the advancement process, especially during hiring. Millennials absolutely crave instant feedback for their work and thrive on encouragement.

They prefer to have monthly sit-downs with individuals to check in on existing projects and to let the employee know how he or she is performing. This is in stark contrast to the traditional annual performance review.

Flexibility and sensitivity to activities and lifestyles.

While millennials are strongly focused on advancing their careers, they also want to enjoy themselves while at work. Recent studies show that work-life balance is one of the most important factors in their job.

Millennials want to know that their hard work and long hours are appreciated and rewarded in ways that are enjoyable and fit in with their active lifestyle. This appreciation could include company happy hours, holiday parties, fitness classes, company sports teams and cooking contests.

Millennials love talking about the exciting and fun aspects of their jobs and use social media to share these things with their online networks. This results in simultaneously building and expanding a company's brand and positioning the firm as a great place to work.

Millennials love to help develop a company culture and create a more engaging work environment.

Cutting-edge technology and tools.

Millennials love technology and they know how to use it. They grew up with technology and they will choose architectural and engineering companies based on the technology the firm has and uses.

Firms that have not kept pace with buying and implementing new technology will be at a distinct disadvantage in retaining and recruiting millennials.

Training for the multigenerational workforce.

It will be very important for millennials and all generations in today's workplace to receive training and have an ongoing dialogue about work ethic, core values, skill sets, work-life balance, etc. to foster an environment of open communication, respect, embracing change and a sense of value and belonging to the family of employees.

An architectural/engineering firm that provides the above will position itself to recruit and retain some of the most qualified young talent in the industry.

Remember, it will not be too long before millennials make up nearly the entire workforce. We are living and working in a new era, and it is critical that the architectural and engineering industry stays current with the changing technology and the changing workforce.

A very strategic question to ask: “Has your company developed and implemented strategies so it is prepared for the millennials?”

If the answer is no, then now is the time to take action. Your action or inaction will have a great impact in determining the success or failure of your company in the future.

Glenn Ebersole, Professional Engineer, is strategic vice president, business development/marketing and a member of the strategic leadership team at Hollenbach Construction Inc., an award-winning professional design/build construction management and general contractor organization in Boyertown. He can be reached at 610-367-4200 or gebersole@hollenbach.com.

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