At the start of the pandemic, the majority of the AEC industry was thrust into an extreme scenario of work-life integration.
Pre-pandemic, technology had begun its transformation of the modern workplace. With opportunities to work from anywhere and almost any time, younger generations sought flexible environments and opportunities for personal and professional development. Even those established and with a long history in the industry were beginning to see the necessity for increased work flexibility and as the workload increased, a necessity to prioritize policies that would help recruit and retain the best talent.
In March of this year, almost overnight, the majority of the AEC industry in the U.S. was thrust into an extreme scenario of complete and total work-life integration, in a literal sense of the word – almost everyone was now living and working from home in an environment that had a simultaneous amount of complete flexibility (want to work at 2 a.m. – no problem) and constraint (need to attend a Zoom meeting at the same time as your now also work-from-home-husband and 12-year-old now-homeschooled kid, while sharing limited internet bandwidth and just 2,000 square feet – big problem).
I recently opened my inbox to a news release headline, “Almost half of working parents (40 percent) have had to change their employment situation by either voluntarily reducing their hours (25 percent) or quitting entirely (15 percent).” This shocking statistic came from a FlexJobs survey of more than 2,500 working parents (across all industries) with children younger than 18 living at home.
This survey also found:
- Of those that quit entirely, 38 percent do not plan to rejoin the workforce
- An additional 5 percent said their partners needed to reduce their hours or quit their job completely
- Working parents said having a flexible schedule (58 percent) would have the greatest impact on their ability to juggle career, distance learning, and childcare responsibilities
- 63 percent of working mothers said they were primarily responsible for childcare during the shutdown this spring, while 43 percent of working fathers reported the same thing
- 17 percent of working mothers quit their jobs during the pandemic – nearly one in five, versus 10 percent of working fathers.
I wondered what this means for the AEC industry – an industry already struggling with recruitment and retention – so I posted these same numbers into the ElevateHer Facebook group and opened up a discussion.
“This is spot on! I resigned entirely. I look forward to returning to the workplace,” said one person.
“Not surprised. I’m losing my mind working at home full-time with a kindergartner, first grader, and fourth grader. It’s truly a nightmare. Meanwhile I’m contemplating going back to school to get my construction management certificate,” said another.
More than 95 percent of firms in the AEC industry have changed their work from home policies in response to COVID-19. The latest research, Zweig Group’s Q3 Impacts of COVID-19 on the AEC Industry Survey, found that a median of 80 percent of the AEC industry workforce is still working remotely. Add in revenue decreases (78 percent of firms are projecting a median decrease of 20 percent) , project cancellations, budget changes, and re-structuring, and many workers in the AEC industry are left feeling stressed and chaotic.
While an informal survey of group members revealed that around 90 percent were in the same or similar job roles and compensation as they were pre-pandemic, there were also a few startling conversations about those who were currently unemployed and struggling.
“I lost my job as a result of pandemic downsizing while my husband’s job grew exponentially. While it would be hard for me to have a full-time job with the current school situation, looking for one is disheartening. Most postings I see are for unicorn positions for half what the salary should be,” said one person.
“I was also laid off. I’ve applied for nearly 30 jobs and not so much as a call back. I’ve never experienced this in my entire professional life,” said another.
While there has been growing instability in the AEC workforce, there’s also a sense of camaraderie. For the individuals above, multiple group members responded back that they wanted to help and asked for resumes.
Despite all the uncertainty, 51 percent of respondents to Zweig Group’s COVID survey feel that the economy will be in “somewhat better” or “much better” shape in 12 months. With the number of projects cancelled or delayed dramatically declining, the AEC industry needs to be prepared for a renewed return to work – something that will necessitate adequate and qualified staff.
For more information on this topic, check out this upcoming free session on October 15 at 11 a.m. CST, during Zweig Group’s Elevate AEC Virtual Experience! Christy Zweig and Tyler Thompson will present Zweig Group’s insight into how COVID-19 has impacted firm financials, spending, and workplace policy. This session will share Zweig Group data gathered from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 up until October 1 and how this unique time period compares to historical norms.
Christina Zweig Niehues is director of marketing and media at Zweig Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.