Grand Designs

By Dave Micciche and Carlie Wagner

In The Science of the Artificial, Herbert Simon writes,

“Design is the process of taking something from its existing state and moving it to a preferred state. This applies to new artifacts, whose existing state is undefined, and previously created artifacts, whose state stands to be improved.”

In this statement, the word “artifact”  can easily transform to any other word, such as “prototype,” “machine,” etc. But what about changing it to “people?” Of course, people aren’t “artifacts” and you can’t “design” them—at least, not yet.

In all seriousness, people aren’t inanimate objects, and we can’t just add them into an Inventor workflow. However, each of us is like an artifact in the sense that we have unique traits and tolerances that must be considered in order to improve our current state. Just like prototyping mechanical designs, every employee development project requires an iterative approach that frequently tests results and changes the design accordingly. In other words, one size fits one, not all.

With any number of new or existing artifacts, it is just as easy, and perhaps even easier, to completely miss the mark and end up with a less preferred state. That would mean wasted time, effort, and money for the company and an unrewarding experience for the employee. So, the question then becomes, how do we iterate people’s knowledge and skills so that it does indeed move forward?

Moving People Toward a Preferred State

Improving the individual knowledge and skills of every employee may seem like a tall task, but not to worry, we have a simple three-step process to help you design individualized plans for new or existing staff members.

Step One: Gather Data During the Hiring Process

The entire hiring process is geared toward defining the undefined. We try to determine how efficiently a candidate will work, what software skills they have, and how well they can utilize the resources provided to find a solution. So, to find out all of this important information, we ask them to send us a…résumé? A one-page, formulated-to-death, list of accomplishments without context, that seems to require as many buzz words as possible.

Historically, we have relied all too heavily on gut feelings from interviews to determine how we think a new hire will fare. Sure, interviews are valuable when determining whether an employee has the soft skills and traits required to be a good fit, but they are hardly a way to determine if an employee has actual, quantifiable skills.

Instead, we recommend using skills tests to verify that a candidate’s existing competencies align with those that are required for their proposed role. Now, you have real data to use in the hiring process, which saves time and has the added benefit of helping to build an individualized onboarding plan if you decide to bring them on.

Role-based evaluations don’t need to be limited to new hires. Targeted assessments also are useful when somebody transfers into a new department, is promoted to a supervisor position, or just feels like they need a change in direction.

Step Two: Upskill Across the Organization

A good process for evaluating and onboarding new hires is certainly a plus, but effectively upskilling your existing workforce can be even more rewarding.

Legacy technology and stale methodologies often leave us with few good options to close the skills gaps that truly matter. Sure, new features, best practices, and tips & tricks seem useful, but none of these options are easily measurable, nor are they at all personalized.

Just as with new staff, you need to first assess the state of each person’s knowledge. Then, you can easily spot their areas in need of improvement, align the appropriate content, and reassess to ensure the gaps are closed. This process should be constant and include incremental updates to both the content and the assessments.

We no longer live in a perpetual software license world, so we need to treat upskilling like a subscription too. Just because a new feature was added to a program doesn’t mean everyone will benefit from it, and if not, there is no need to waste their time learning about it. Efficiency is driven by knowing what you need to know, not by knowing everything.

Look for simple tools that already align assessment questions to the relevant content; this will save time and improve accuracy.

Step Three: Data-Powered Content Alignment

Now that you have harnessed all the data, you can really put it to use. Every manager wants to minimize the time it takes to learn new hard skills so that teams can just start being more productive already!

If you followed steps one and two, you now have an opportunity to expedite the process by strategically aligning the training program that you create with the exact skills needed for each current or future job role. Now imagine a system that allows everybody to log in, choose their job title, and automatically have the content they need to optimize their performance.

Because you have captured all this data, it can be even further aligned to each employee’s specific skillsets. So now, they can focus on just the content that they don’t already know, but do need to know, to succeed in their role.

Shaping Employees into a Preferred State

Employee development can be extremely challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. As new design tools emerge on a daily basis, it helps to have the right system in place to take advantage of the next big trends. Adopting the right support tools now will pay off greatly as you watch people embrace change because they know they have the resources to continue their mastery, no matter what comes next.

So maybe you can’t design “artifact-people” after all, but you certainly can use cutting-edge technology and forward-thinking methodologies to help shape today’s employees and the workforce of tomorrow into a more preferred state.

The Destruction of Training in the Construction Industry

By Matt Murphy

When a market sector is on the rise, the need for highly skilled workforce also rises. U.S. construction spending saw a month-over-month rise of 0.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.26 trillion in November, marking the fourth straight month of increases and setting a new high, according to a Yahoo! Finance analysis of Commerce Department data. There was a 1% monthly increase in the homebuilding sector and a 5.5% surge in office construction.

There is a growing need for a skilled workforce, yet most AEC firms point to a decline in training programs and offerings for employees.

This appears counter to need as the shortage of skilled trades workers is looming large, as addressed in a recent article in Forbes. We need to be clear—the disruption in the training industry is moving away from traditional instructor-led classrooms. This is evident through the current trends in the consumption of content in the AEC industry. The pressure to drive better designs and shorten the construction window with fewer errors and change orders is paramount. The Boomers are also retiring, placing the burden on the next generation to be a leaner and more highly skilled workforce.

Millennials will Become the Majority

While about one-third of employees currently in the workforce are from this generation, within fifteen years, that figure is expected to be 75%. That means that Millennials will advance more rapidly within firms than Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers did because there will increasingly be a need to fill senior positions. This will significantly change the dynamics and corporate cultures within AEC firms. Baby Boomers who have been the Project Principals as the ‘doers’ will need to mentor younger professionals to take over. For Millennials to become leaders, they must be gaining the experience and exposure now.

Investment in Employees

The workforce shortage is a driver, but so is the client focus on selecting key people, not companies, for projects. A firm is only as good as its weakest team member, and this means that a few strategic hires can make a firm, while a few key departures can break it. The industry has not invested in people in a long time. The recession of 2008 beat down the rising stars that have been wearing too many hats just to get the job done. Investing in leadership has not been a priority. So, firms need to better invest in those employees to turn them into leaders and keep them from leaving for a competitor.

Filling the Gap with an Upskilled Workforce

So, if you shift the goal of your current staff to leadership, how do you then fill the gap when there’s already a lack of skilled professionals in engineering, architecture, and field construction?

The goal for companies has always been to hire the most qualified candidates. But what if the candidates don’t have the minimum skills?

The need for smart talent management systems is critical to determine what gaps a candidate has, and then hire while “Upskilling” them. This is done with a true pre-hire assessment and candidate prospecting. No longer will there be paper-based, screen-qualified individuals with static qualification requirements. The true application of knowledge, skills, and critical thinking abilities will be assessed to partially qualified candidates, and then provide them with an appropriate upskill and onboarding program to shorten time to proficiency. We used to call this “on-the-job training,” but today, it’s more than that. It’s identifying strengths and providing a hyper-personalized learning path to an individual to fill a niche need.

Knowledge Management Drives Outcomes

The shift continues to look at the outcomes and goals of the individual, the group within the organization, or the project at hand. Knowledge management systems will track these three areas, determine strengths, and make appropriate recommendations to drive more successful outcomes. And for the AEC firm, that results in faster, better, and more cost-effective designs and building.

Talent Management Drives Brand

The shift in focus from companies to employees also means a shift from a corporate brand to a personal brand. Each individual in an organization has a unique voice, gifts, and talents. Talent Management begins on the day you’re hired. It’s an ongoing process that evolves with time and the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. As we shift from non-traditional services, firms will look at how spokespersons can drive projects to reality. The A/E/C firms that can move beyond the ‘traditional’ services are the ones that will be able to truly differentiate themselves while surviving and thriving in this new, disruptive market.

So yes, the reality is the AEC market is re-constructing itself to be more successful. Success beyond profits and for the employees. Today, it’s about recognizing the individual’s talent and knowledge while developing personal upskill opportunities that are rewarding for the individual, driving better outcomes for the organization. This will ensure the focus is on maintaining human resources that are rewarding for current and future employees.