Pitching the Industry: Rethink Hiring in A/E/C Marketing

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this (or said this) before when trying to fill a marketing position at your firm: “This candidate seems to have [insert desirable skills here], but doesn’t have AEC-specific experience, so we will pass.”

Raise your other hand if it’s been difficult to quickly fill and keep marketing positions at your firm: are both hands raised? Great, now do the wave because you’re amongst many.  

A Sign of the Times: Our industry is not unlike many industries right now. We see growth and with that comes growing pains. These growing pains primarily involve staffing issues, and the reality is that we are competing for quality candidates at a time when quality candidates feel scarcer than ever. And why is that?

The recent 43rd Annual Deltek Clarity Architecture and Engineering Industry Study revealed companies across our industry are experiencing a 65% increase in open positions. On top of that, “the number one challenge for nine out of ten firms is the availability of good candidates in the marketplace”, and about 70% of the time it will take an employer 31-90 days to fill a position – if they’re lucky to fill it at all. Pair that with a daunting discovery by a 2022 survey by McKinsey & Company that the majority (65%) of those who had quit their jobs between April 2020 and April 2022 did NOT return to the same industry!

“Vitally, companies can no longer assume that they can fill empty slots with workers similar to the ones who just left. Globally, just 35 percent of those who quit in the past two years took a new job in the same industry,” concludes McKinsey & Company.

Additionally, we’re introducing a generation of brand new professionals into the workforce, and statistically, 56% of these folks plan to leave their first job within two years. That kind of turnover doesn’t bode well for positions in niche fields such as AEC Marketing that requires specialization often not taught in current marketing degree programs, therefore needs to be learned on the job – which takes time. A lot of time.

In an industry that earns revenue via billable hours (hello AEC), time is literal money.  So it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to sacrifice too much of it training up a new hire who seems likely to leave, especially when you’re trapped under deadlines and responsible for helping your technical team win work and grow your firm. While there isn’t a quick and easy solution to this staffing conundrum, there is actually a good solution.

Case Studies for the ”Good Solution”: “I’m a retired army public affairs officer and worked at a non-profit organization as a communications manager prior to joining Bridgers & Paxton, an MEP Engineering firm in Colorado Springs,” says Johnpaul 'JP' Arnold, APR, LEED GA, MS. More than twenty years into his career, he was entirely new to AEC. He shares, “I knew I wanted something different, to be part of something that was building and helping the community in a different way from healthcare or military defenses. It was a way to provide meaning and purpose in my everyday work life.” 

There was a learning curve for JP. He joined SMPS Colorado to help fill the gaps and even worked through the chapter’s CPSM Study Group, the MARKENDIUM and the LEED AP certification program to further enrich his understanding. Fast forward 4+ years and JP is leading his firm’s growth in the Colorado market, while earning achievements such as the SMPS Colorado 2022 Member of the Year (Marketing Excellence Awards) and the Unicorn Marketer Award. He was also nominated for SMPS Colorado 2022 Business Developer of the Year.

JP isn’t alone in this type of industry jump. Stacey Richardson, CPSM of 360 Engineering, Inc., a full-service women-owned mechanical engineering firm based in Golden, CO, shares her experience. 

“I was very fortunate that 360 Engineering took a chance on me despite not having AEC experience… I had a huge learning curve ahead of me, from familiarizing myself with the basics of the construction process (design through occupancy) to learning more detailed information about mechanical engineering and our role on the design team.”  

Before joining 360 Engineering, Stacey worked in the outdoor and hospitality industries, with day-to-day responsibilities focused on customer service, marketing, and staff training. Today, she’s the Director of Business Development at her firm, enjoying her sixth year in AEC, and a Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM). “What really helped me during those times was my drive to learn, my organization skills, and my people skills,” says Stacey when reflecting on her journey.  

Conclusion: JP and Stacey are prime case studies for a solution to our industry’s staffing conundrum. In a time when it’s getting less and less likely for you to find the AEC-specific candidate that you imagine can hit the ground running (although this expectation in and of itself is debatable), and those seemingly more affordable post-grad hires that may end up costing you more when you’re left with yet another empty position to fill think of this: 

The best candidate is the one you might have considered passing at first glance. They have the desirable skills and a track record to prove it, and while you may think you’re taking a chance on them because “they’re not from AEC” – you’re ACTUALLY making a strategic, long-term investment for the future of your firm and the survival of our collective industry.



1 Deltek, Inc. (2022, May 19). 43rd Annual Deltek Clarity Architecture and Engineering Industry Study.

2 De Smet, A., Dowling, B., Hancock, B., & Schaninger, B. (2022, July 28). The great attrition is making hiring harder. are you searching the right talent pools? McKinsey & Company. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-great-attrition-is-making-hiring-harder-are-you-searching-the-right-talent-pools

3 Schroeder, J. (2021, May 21). Most college students plan to leave their first job within 2 years. The University Network. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://www.tun.com/blog/most-college-students-plan-to-leave-their-first-job-within-2-year

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