Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What worries an A/E firm CEO?

At PSMJ's recent CEO Roundtable, CEOs were asked to identify the top seven challenges for 2008. Nowhere on the list does "difficulty of finding qualified staff" appear, which drove Mel Lester of The Business Edge to post the following on his blog yesterday:

"That doesn't mean the problem has gone away, although many firms are laying off staff. But it does suggest a substantial shift in thinking in light of current economic conditions--even among firms that are still doing well."

Lester goes on to say that downturns have their benefits. "They tend to force us to reflect on our core strategy and operational practices, making needed changes that might be neglected in good times. Granted, some firms take reactionary steps that are poor choices for the long term. But the best firms will often emerge even stronger from times like these."

I think the reason firms aren't concerned about finding qualified staff is because they are more concerned about finding enough work to keep the staff they have. If they are fortunate enough to have a surplus of projects and a shortage of talent, the fact that their colleagues down the street are laying people off means there's a glut of talent and not enough work to keep them busy.

Mel's blog is definitely worth checking out for those of you interested in a different take on the A/E industry.


1 comment:

Mel Lester said...


I certainly don't disagree with your point about staffing being less a concern in our current economy. My main hypothesis (perhaps not stated clearly enough) is that perceptions about the business may have turned more dramatically than the business itself. Most of my clients continue to do quite well, but they are still anxious about the not-too-distant future. Your organization's own numbers through 2007 do not suggest a significant downturn in our business overall (at least a few months ago).

So is the apparent shift in priorities among CEOs based on market realties or market uncertainties? I suggest more of the latter. As we continue to hear more bad news about the economy, it's natural to assume it will affect our firm's business even if it hasn't yet. So some are probably sitting tight on new hires even if they're currently short-staffed.

Do recent layoffs substantially improve the availability of talent? That's debatable since firms usually don't let their better performers go until things really get bad. There are certainly more people available, but they may not assuage the long-standing concern about "finding enough good people."

By the way, thanks for the plug for my blog. I value the dialogue!


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