By Karl Feldman

COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt fundamentally changed the economy, including the AEC industry. One of the greatest impacts has been on employment. In April, May, and June of this year, an average of 4 million individuals quit their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Particularly hard hit has been the professional services sector. So, what’s going on?

Christened the “Great Resignation” by business pundits, this phenomenon stems from a wide range of reasons. Some workers are leaving for greener pastures, lured by better pay or remote-friendly working conditions. Others have decided to take matters into their own hands and start their own businesses. Still others are quitting with no firm plans, confident they can find a better job as the economy rebounds.


Survival and sustainability of AEC firms will require developing effective strategies to deal with the disruption that lies ahead. The planning process is critical whether an AEC firm decides to continue only in its core business and adjust or reinvent themselves to respond to the changing market environment. Success, in large part, will hinge on business agility and competitive advantage. And that means attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent.

However, the AEC industry is particularly vulnerable to employment woes. A shortage of white-collar talent has been brewing for years. The pandemic has only intensified this shortage as baby boomers retire earlier than expected and others quit for better opportunities.

Hinge Research Institute’s employer branding study, focused on skilled white-collar employees and talent recruiters, revealed factors prompting active and passive job seekers.

According to the survey, both active and passive job seekers are much more likely to have gone through an M&A than their non-job-seeking peers, with only 13-16% of them satisfied with how their firm handled it. In fact, ALL active seekers, and almost three-quarters of passive seekers, were dissatisfied with the process. 

Likewise, how the AEC firms who participated in our survey handled the COVID crisis created another employment vulnerability. Sixty-seven percent of active job seekers, and 26% of passive seekers, felt their current employer did not adapt well to the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

A major underlying cause for these two major influencers of employee dissatisfaction was poor communications. Fifty percent of surveyed professionals indicated that clear communications about how the firms involved in the M&A fit together would have elicited a more positive response to the deal. AEC firms engaged in an M&A, or trying to transition their workforces in response to the pandemic, simply did a poor job of communicating their intent or strategy to their employees. 


The single most important thing your firm can do to attract the most qualified, skilled, and experienced talent is to ensure that you’re presenting a highly visible, positive, and attractive image to the marketplace. Here’s how.


For an AEC firm to succeed in the turbulent post-pandemic business environment it must focus on having the right people, process, and tools to run and grow the business. Together, all the elements that factor into how you do things are what we call your company culture.

In fact, research shows that company culture is one of the most important things a candidate considers when seeking a new job. It reveals what kind of behavior is valued, how management interacts with employees and employees with clients. A positive culture attracts more and better talent to your firm and is key to retaining the talent you already have. 


Well over half of all job seekers avoid firms with a poor reputation. Top prospects seek out a firm others know and admire for its positive reputation as a workplace among current and prospective employees. In short, a strong employer brand, increasingly a powerful incentive to stay with a firm. Hinge’s research suggests job seekers value a great workplace over higher pay. 


Do you know what candidates will find out about your firm when they do a Google search? To make sure your reputation is untarnished, it helps to actively manage it online, and that means combining SEO and digital PR strategies. Done right, both can help distribute content showcasing good deeds and positive accomplishments. It not only makes your firm look good, it makes employees feel good about where they work. 


It’s hard to attract top talent if you don’t know what’s important to them and where to find them. Many employers think money is the most important criterion to a candidate, but our research shows that compensation ties at a distant second with a desire for strong leadership and a clear vision for the future, behind the number one consideration—company culture.

While some AEC firms might be reluctant to have a highly visible presence there, it can be beneficial to promote your experts on LinkedIn to demonstrate a culture that values its people. The talent you promote will be delighted by the recognition and association with your company even more. If they leave your firm, LinkedIn was not the problem. 


As the pandemic gradually recedes and business gets back to whatever the new normal is going to be, it’s important to look at this new reality as an opportunity. The Great Resignation trend signals a changing employment dynamic, one in which talent—forced to adjust to a new way of working—is also open to opportunity. Is your firm ready to offer it to them?  

About the Author:

Karl Feldman is partner at Hinge, the leading research-based branding and marketing firm for the professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to become more visible and grow. For more, visit

Modern Contractor Solutions, November 2021
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