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Survival Guide for Engineers and Architects at Large Construction Firms


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Engineers and architects at large construction firms face a unique set of hurdles that they must work toward overcoming on a daily basis. From navigating complex corporate hierarchies to working outside their comfort levels, this role can put increased pressure and stress on architects and engineers. However, by locating and preparing for the trends likely to impact this sector, architects and engineers can get ahead of their peers and truly succeed.

Filling the Talent Gap

The construction industry is being hit hard on every side with labor shortages and a lack of skilled workers. From residential builders to large commercial enterprises, firms of all sizes are feeling the pinch. While construction companies deal with labor shortages, many are faced with a lack of architects as well. 

As noted in Crain's Business New York, following the Great Recession, an entire generation of young architects found themselves with stagnant or unrealized careers, with the majority of them leaving the sector and seeking out employment in other industries. Due to this exodus, many construction and design firms claim this is the toughest hiring market for architects in 20 years, with many firms lowering their standards on what they're seeking in a qualified candidate.

This is the toughest hiring market for architects in 20 years.

With a major gap in the talent base for experienced architects, it means those currently employed with a large construction firm will face increased pressure to complete heavier workloads. This can lead to serious errors and costly mistakes if architects do not have the appropriate tools to organize and access the data necessary to complete their jobs.

International Appeal

As large construction firms find ways to create additional growth and generate higher revenues, many will be forced to expand their operations to international markets. According to Brookings Vice President Bruce Katz, global gross domestic product is expected to gather more than 83 percent of its revenue from markets out of the U.S. over the next five years. This means more construction firms will be forced to work increasingly within multiple jurisdictions and with a variety of governments on all scales, from towns to countries.

For instance, as The New York Times noted, construction projects in China are currently underway to complete the world's largest airport, longest bridge, and biggest gas pipeline. As emerging markets continue to undertake multibillion-dollar projects, architects and engineers at large construction firms must be able to utilize every tool and resource available to ensure they can compete with these grandiose designs in whichever country is constructing the building or infrastructure.

Discrepancies in Uncertainties

While it's very wise to ensure everyone is working toward the same end goals, not everyone involved in a particular construction firm has the same exact objectives, outlooks, or priorities. According to a recent report by McGraw Hill Construction in partnership with The American Institute of Architects' Large Firm Roundtable, entitled "Managing Uncertainty and Expectations in Building Design and Construction," construction firm owners and architects have divergent views on what constitutes the greatest causes of uncertainty for the industry.

For owners, the biggest concern is unforeseen site or construction issues, which they feel cause the most disruptions in their firm's daily business operations. Architects, on the other hand, see owner-driven changes as the primary cause of uncertainty for their industry, with an accelerated schedule coming in a close second. Indeed, the two main causes of uncertainty for architects came in at a tie for fifth place among owners. With these two groups diverging so greatly on what they think are the most common causes of uncertainty, it can be difficult to alleviate these issues and find common ground for both parties to figure out how to align their concerns.

Using Different Languages

Every industry uses its own jargon to describe the nuances and peculiar aspects of their work. Typically, only those involved in the particular sector understand the unique slang and jargon. Even two industries as closely related as architecture and engineering can sometimes find themselves using a variety of words for the same feature, or using the same word but with each sector defining the word differently.

With the rise of increased collaboration, even the simple word choice for describing a particular feature can be obscured by the variations in the sectors. As Autodesk's Line//Shape//Space noted, while architects and engineers might use the same vocabulary, these two groups might also attach a variety of meanings to otherwise identical words. 

For example, when faced with the word "differentiation," an engineer might envision a calculus equation depicting the measured rate of change, whereas the architect might instead visualize the actual curved structure the equation describes. While these differences might seem superficial at first glance, they can cause significant problems, as they can lead to communication breakdowns––the biggest inhibitor to collaboration.

Thankfully, using a cloud-based software with integration capabilities allows architects and engineers to streamline their workflows and upload images and photographs to the project details. This ensures all relevant parties have real time access to the same exact information, which can then be shared with everyone else in the construction firm. By implementing a cloud-based construction solution, firms can reduce clerical errors in data entry and potentially eliminate the chances of miscommunication.