Turnover Rates Continue to Increase in the A/E Industry

Aug. 12, 2008

NATICK, MA - The perfect storm of high demand for architects and engineers combined with a short supply has created a tough climate for A/E firms ... filled with rising salaries, the need for highly competitive benefits packages, and difficulty attracting and retaining top talent who have many options besides your firm. While slowing economic conditions have provided a degree of relief for some firms, the long-term market fundamentals seem to indicate that the shortage of qualified talent will not be going away any time soon. As a result, many A/E firms are taking a hard look at what they can do to control voluntary turnover.

According to ZweigWhite's 2008 Recruiting and Retention Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms, industry firms saw a median voluntary departure rate of 11.3 percent last year-with many firms having an even higher rate. "However, some of the best firms to work for have turnover rates significantly lower than that, so bringing that number down is certainly possible. And that doesn't happen by accident. Driving down your firm's turnover rate is a result of strategic investments and initiatives with the goal of becoming one of the premier employers in the industry," says Susan Dell Orto, a consultant with ZweigWhite's Strategic Advisory Services group.

Dell Orto shares a structured approach A/E firms can use to assess and control voluntary turnover. Start by tracking—firms should track their total turnover each year, assessing both voluntary and involuntary turnover and compare it to industry norms. Benchmarking the firm's metrics—not only turnover, but also policies, procedures, and programs—will provide the needed context for an initial understanding of where the strengths and opportunities lie. But, don't stop there. Go to the source. There is rich information within the firm's walls that will point specifically to where the greatest strides can be made. At a minimum, utilize the exit interview—these conversations should include an honest dialogue about your firm as an employer. In addition, employee surveys can provide a wealth of insight with respect to what the firm is doing right and what it isn't.

However, Dell Orto cautions that, "While a well-structured employee survey is extremely valuable, firms must be prepared to take action on this information. If employees sense that their sincere and candid feedback has gone to a file never to be seen again, the end result could be an overwhelming sentiment of skepticism and cynicism among the staff." As such, with the information in-hand indicating what is working and what isn't, firm leaders need to take action. Formulate a plan and clearly communicate with the staff that their voices have been heard and that action is being taken. Dell Orto advises to "make the investment of time, resources, and money to address the key issues that have come to light and communicate what the changes are, why they are being made, and how they will impact the employees. This action signals a strong commitment to being a great place to work." 

ZweigWhite is a leading source of management consulting, information and education for the design and construction industry. ZweigWhite brings together experts in strategic business planning, organization, operations, business valuation, ownership transition, human resources, recruitment, finance and administration, information technology, mergers and acquisitions, market research, marketing, project management, and project delivery methods. The firm is headquartered in Chicago, with additional offices in Natick, MA, and Washington, D.C. For further information, contact Susan Dell Orto, [email protected], or visit www.zweigwhite.com.

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