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AEC firms need agility to connect a multigenerational workforce

The Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry, or AEC, is witnessing the expansion of the multigenerational workforce with the Z Generation preparing to move into the workplace, and Millennials increasing their presence to become the largest segment of the workforce in the United States.

Competition for new talent and retention of existing talent keeps increasing and AEC business leaders recognize they must focus on providing a workplace that will attract and appeal to this new majority in a multigenerational workforce without negative effects on the more established Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Conversations abound about generation gaps, generational differences and maximizing business development, marketing strategies and talent acquisition across the generations. A strategic analysis is essential to comprehend and plan for the differences between the generations and the impacts these differences will have on people’s personal and professional lives.

Look at the composition of the multigenerational workforce and some general characteristics of each generation.

Traditionalists (born before 1945). They are still represented in today’s workforce for a variety of reasons. They tended to stay at a job for life, had a slow and steady career path and looked at work as an obligation. This group is projected to be about 10% of the US workforce in 2020.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946-65). They are hard workers often characterized by a sense of stability, formality and responsibility. They expected to work and value a sense of loyalty to their employer with an upwardly mobile career path. More Baby Boomers are remaining within or returning to the workforce due to economic downturns and are delaying retirement until they feel more financially secure. They now represent 25% of the US workforce, as compared to 50% in 1994.

Gen X or Next Gen (born between 1966-77). They view work as a difficult challenge. They want work – life balance, understand what options they have for their career path and when to change jobs for more compensation. They now represent 33% of the US workforce.

Gen Y or Millennials (born between 1978-95). This group views work as a means to an end. They frequently change jobs and are career multi-taskers. They want to be connected with more senior coworkers that are leaders and mentors. They are “technology natives” having grown up with the Internet. They now represent 35% of the US workforce.

Gen Z or Generation 2020 (born after 1995). Millennials are comfortable with technology, while Gen Z is totally integrated with technology. Major concerns are expressed about this generation’s lack of interpersonal skills. A high rate of home schooling and one stay-at-home-parent has led to a strong work ethic, as well as the desire for structure, order and predictability.  They are just beginning to enter the workforce as workers or work/study program participants and their impact is still to be determined.

By 2020, four or five generations could be working in the same AEC office. Planners, designers and developers must design and provide office space to accommodate a multigenerational workforce rather than limiting the office design parameters to Millennial preferences, which are constantly evolving and often based on stereotypes.

Facilitating meaningful connections and collaborations between employees in AEC firms helps bridge the information gap between more seasoned employees and new talent. Spaces that are designed to encourage informal connections bring people together and enhance the type of social learning that builds culture and transfers knowledge from one generation to another.

Baby Boomers may be comfortable with traditional and transitional office layouts. Gen X needs a clear separation or balance between work life and personal life. Millennials are often more comfortable with blurred boundaries and being able to flow freely between work and personal activities. Therefore, workplaces need to have flexible multi-use spaces to accommodate these differences.

Indications are that Generation Z will find more success in the workplace when the intended use of space is obvious. Clarity about the intent of spaces and how to use the tools and amenities will help to set a common understanding across all generations. This will ease anxiety and lessen conflict that could arise from differing expectations.

The differing work styles of the evolving multigenerational workforce must also be considered.  Innovative and agile work spaces need to be created for the AEC workplace to support working styles that allow employees to work the way they want to work.

Agility is a key strategic word relative to the future of AEC workspaces. Office environments must be space-efficient and productive with dynamic, activity-based layouts that appeal to people of different generations and with different job functions.

Today’s agile AEC office environments must offer a combination of open space, conference rooms and private secluded spaces. This environment allows employees to collaborate and work alongside their co-workers while offering a more focused environment for workers who require phone calls or a quiet atmosphere to complete tasks. AEC employees also need access to the space for private meetings or conversations.

“I think we will continue to see an increase in alternative spaces and environments, along with more immersive technology. Technology that is connected to more analog methods of communicating will become even more important as the tools and methods of creation become more varied and personal. There are fewer reasons for the majority of workers to go to a traditional workplace, so places that offer variety and flexibility will become more important to not only workers and employers but also to cities and neighborhoods.”

Glenn Ebersole 

Glenn Ebersole is a professional engineer and is the Business Development Manager for CVM and CVMNEXT Construction in King of Prussia. He can be reached at or 610-964-2800, ext. 155.

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