Whether you realize it or not, they are your biggest competitive advantage, so train them, mold them, and set them up to succeed.
Clients are great. They are your main source of revenue. Technology is amazing. It allows your company to be more productive. Your executive team is crucial in making strategic decisions to guide your firm’s growth. These are all very important components of a successful A/E firm. However, none of them are your competitive advantage.
Your competitive advantage is your younger professionals. They are your present, and your future. They have the ability to make massive contributions to your firm today and 15 years from now.
- How are you recruiting young professionals?
- How are you investing in your younger professionals?
- How are you supporting your young professionals in their development?
- How are you retaining your young professionals?
After a 15-year civil engineering career where I started in high school as a field surveyor holding a rod in the woods, and ended up a highly successful project manager, I decided that I wanted to help younger A/E professionals succeed. I learned that to do so, I would need to help them develop their non-technical skills like communication, networking, productivity, leadership, and other management skills.
I spent that last seven years building my current company, the Engineering Career Coach, and in doing so have had the chance to coach and work with thousands of young A/E professionals and their firms across the country. Our free podcast episodes have been downloaded more than 2 million times and our mailing list goes out to more than 10,000 younger professionals. I am telling you this because I am about to give you some strategies for recruiting, cultivating, and retaining young professionals and I want you to understand that this knowledge comes from direct interaction with them.
So here are some strategies you can employ to help you find and empower young professionals:
- Create or provide access to professional development training, especially management/business training for young professionals. Not only will this empower your young professionals and help them develop their management skills, but also these programs can serve as amazing recruiting and retention tools. Motivated professionals want to come to firms that will give them access to training, and they also want to stay with them.
- Provide your younger professionals with challenges including management responsibilities as early on as possible in their careers. These might include the ability to tag along with managers to client meetings, work on small components of proposals, or be involved with presentations, whether they be for prospective or existing projects. When you challenge a YP, you are telling them that you believe in their abilities and doing so will motivate them tremendously.
- Challenge your YPs to develop their expertise in a certain field. Do this by recommending they seek technical training in a niche, write papers on the topics, and present at conferences. This will help them build confidence in themselves while creating an expertise that can assist your firm in bringing in new business.
- Create opportunities for YPs to speak with executives in an open forum. YPs will speak up if put in a position to do so, and usually they will give you useful feedback on how the firm can improve or generate ideas for new service lines, geographic expansion, or other ideas related to growth.
- Thank your YPs for their hard work and dedication. This can be as simple as an email or phone call in which the main message is, “Thank You.” YPs appreciate praise, even if it is simply in the form of a phone call as opposed to a salary increase. I have been told this directly by YPs I have coached.
So remember, your young professionals are your competitive advantage. Do everything you can to empower and support them.
Anthony Fasano, P.E., is the founder of the Engineering Career Coach, a company that has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast, and has written a bestselling book for engineers entitled Engineer Your Own Success. He has also recently started the Engineering Management Accelerator workshop to help engineers become more entrepreneurial. Visit engineertomanager.com for more.