Here is the full transcript of a great conversation that we had with Mark Zweig. He gave us a history lesson on AECWorkforce and the importance of an effective job board for the Design and Construction Industry.
Randy: Hey folks! This is Randy Wilburn here with another episode of the Zweig Letter Podcast. Today, yes, that’s right folks! Today, I have convinced Mark Zweig to come back and join us. He’s been away for a while and been busy and working on a number of things. Mark Zweig is a master of many things and so it’s always an honor when we can get him into the studio even if just for a few minutes to spend some time with us. And so, today we have a special episode on tap for you to talk a little about history. I think that outside of the funny faces that he’s making to me right now as I record this, you guys will have a real interest in what we have to share. It’s also a prelude to something that we’re working on in the R&D area of Zweig Group. So I think it’s something that everyone will have an interest in. Especially those of you that aspire to hire and keep the best talent out there, we’re going to talk a little bit about AECWorkforce.
Mark, I know that back in the day, you had the chance to put together a job board of sorts that really in your mind was a precursor to what we’re working on today. I was just hoping if you could talk a little bit about it and talk about this industry as a whole when it comes to posting jobs and sharing data with regard to that because it’s so interesting. Firms nowadays struggle with a couple of things outside of just obviously hiring and keeping great talent. It’s also making sure that they’re staying above board with their cost especially in the area of salaries, making sure that they’re competitive with the peer firms that are out there. Because when they’re not, that’s generally when they tend to lose people. First of all, it’s great to have you back on the podcast, which is actually has your name in it. But it’s a privilege to have you here today. Why don’t you talk a little bit about the history of AECWorkforce and just share your thoughts on that?
Mark: Well, I appreciate being here. Every time I get interviewed by you Randy, it’s an experience. It’s second to none. It’s the royal treatment. Now, AECWorkforce. I think the concept was really born out of a need for a specialized job board for the A/E industry because anyone who has advertised a job opening or position opening on an online job board, a position in the A/E firm knows that by far and away, the majority of people that you get applying have absolutely nothing to do with our industry. And that’s very annoying and it wastes your time. You just have to filter through. If you’re lucky enough to have a volume of candidates, the preponderance of them aren’t even remotely qualified. They’re engineers who work in manufacturing or they’re engineers who worked on aerospace or engineers who worked in other unrelated fields, in the military or in industry or academia or whatever. But typically, you don’t get the responses from people who are actually out there in A/E and environmental firms, doing the kind of work that firms in this business do.
And so that was really why we created it. We knew we had a good list of people that we could send this product to, send advertisements to, to get them to our side and drive traffic there. We had a distribution channel. We still do. For the A/E industry, we can reach the owners and managers so we could get advertisers and have jobs there for people who are interested and they’re open to making a change that they could look at. At the same time, we could reach the individuals who would be the potential hires for most of the positions that were open. So that’s our idea is to relaunch that. It’s phase one, as you’re well-aware, of a multi-pronged campaign to develop, basically, the number one employment resource for the A/E industry. This is the start, is to revitalize AECWorkforce. So advertisers in need of people have a place they can go and potential job candidates can find jobs that they’re qualified to fill.
Randy: Even if we go in the wayback machine and go back to the first iteration of AECWorkforce which was the job mart. Even then, there was a lot of interest in that for the very reason that you’ve stated earlier.
Mark: Yeah, that was at another company that goes back thirty years. We were very successful right from the get go with basically what was a simple newspaper of sorts that had job openings for A/E firms all over the country. And then we’d send that out to a massive list and it was a pretty cool idea and it got traction right away. I think today, there are lots of other sources. Back then, basically your advertising options were pretty much limited to newspapers. And if you wanted to run a nationwide search, you had to run ads in all the major city newspapers. So we were kind of unusual. Or you could run an ad in the back of ENR where you might get lost. It was all very expensive though. All employment advertising was very, very expensive.
So today, we have all these online sources that are out there. Some of those are companies worth billions and billions of dollars. But the bottom line is that the A/E industry is not the industry that they focus on. So the job seekers aren’t there. They don’t think that’s the place to go and advertisers get frustrated with the lack of response. And according to the people we talk to, it’s either a complete lack of response or it’s response from people who just aren’t even remotely qualified.
Randy: I think that just listening to what you’re saying, it’s amazing how even in a thirty year period that things have not changed that much. And it’s still a challenge to this day. Because it’s not like if I have a successful design firm that I can just easily go on to ZipRecruiter or Monster or Indeed.
Mark: Indeed, you can’t.
Randy: And pretty much, I’m taking a buckshot approach when I’m trying to reach people. It’s more of that “be everywhere” concept as opposed to putting your money into a vehicle where you know you’re going to reach the kind of people that you would be even remotely interested in hiring.
Mark: Yeah, exactly. It’s the rightful shot as they say. The situation today is the talent is so hard to find. It’s just amazingly difficult. You go back thirty years ago, it was still hard to find people who could do more than just their design or technical task. But it was a lot different situation job-wise. There were probably more people out there who are looking for a job than there are today. So you really have to use a rifle if you’re going to find anybody today to speak with about your opening who’s qualified. Of course, that’s the caveat. But we think there’s no reason why we should be getting responses from outside the A/E industry based on our distribution channel and our position in this market. Those people won’t find us and the people who do know anything about the A/E business or how are in it, they will find us.
Randy: You obviously are still out there consulting on a regular basis. So you see that the talent need now even more so than ever before is extremely important. It’s something that’s a major issue.
Mark: They say it’s the number one issue according to our principal survey of owners and managers – the number one problem area. So it’s a big deal. And people are spending money on it and they’re not getting results. They’re spending money on recruiters who aren’t able to produce. They’re spending money on all these fund line head sources that they’re not getting results from. So they’re spending money. They’re not getting results. Talent is short. You’ve got to do everything you can to find these people.
Randy: And not that AECWorkforce would be an end all be all. But certainly, it would be a step in the right direction from a talent acquisition standpoint.
Mark: Well at least, like I say, you’re not going to be reaching the people who come from outside the A/E industry. There’s just no reason they’d be there. I guess maybe somebody who wants to get into the A/E business can conceivably be there. But I think it’s the opposite of what you’d find if you went on Monster or one of these other sources, you’d probably got like 2% of the people that are in there from A/E firms and 98% are from something else. And so I think we’re going to be the opposite. We should be 98% from A/E firms and 2% from somewhere else.
Randy: Yeah, even the few that you end up seeing that aren’t a fit, it won’t be so offensive because most of what you do see is actually pretty good.
Mark: I hope so.
Randy: That’s the key point.
Mark: That’s what we found the last time we did this thing and that was a little different concept, less online worry on it. But today, I think there’s a real opportunity out there to fill this critical need.
Randy: Absolutely. What tips would you have out there for firms that are really struggling in this area in general from a talent acquisition standpoint? Since I call you my Yoda of Executive Search because you’ve been doing it for so long. You’ve seen it in all of its iterations and as you look at it now, with the years of experience that you have, what are you seeing that maybe other people aren’t seeing or missing?
Mark: I think that there’s just too many people out there who still think their job is to keep bad people out. That seems to be the number one problem instead of get good people in. They got to be selling. These employers have got to sell. They’ve got to have something different. We’re at a meeting a couple of weeks ago with a client. We were talking about strategic planning and their inability to get people. And I said, what if we just gave every single new employee at a professional level a company car? Well it would just be unheard of. Well now, let’s think about it for a minute. Our average salary we’re paying is somewhere between eighty to ninety grand a year. There are plenty of leased cars we could get for $300 a month. And we can have all these rolling billboards out there all painted the same color, all with the company logo on them, incredible branding opportunity with working visibility everywhere. It’s got a marketing benefit and everybody gets a new car. Can you imagine hiring people like you come to work here, you get a new car. You get to work somewhere else, you don’t. And they were like, “That actually makes sense.”
We have got to get more creative and yet spending money, I’m sorry, but hey. You’re not going to be able to solve all your problems by not spending money. You think about $300 a month versus somebody who makes $7,000 a month. That’s not that big a deal. You know what I mean? We got to do things differently. I think these companies have got to sell and they don’t understand that. They’ve got people out there who are grilling candidates on “why do you want to make a change, why do you want to work here?” They don’t know why they want to work there. You haven’t told them any reason to want to work there yet. The work environments are boring. You’re going to put all the peons out in the cubes and all the executive types. They’ll have all their perimeter offices. There’s no real excitement happening there. “We have a Christmas party every year and we give you a Christmas turkey.” Okay, well that’s great but that’s not too exciting. There’s no real purpose for the company. What’s your purpose? “We want to make a 10% profit this year.” Okay, great. When you really come right down to it, they just don’t have anything special at all to offer in terms of work environment, sense of purpose, projects, benefits, anything. So if it was me, my advice is you better start thinking differently or you’re not going to find. It’s very easy to hire people. Because there’s a lot of good options out there. We even have former Zweig employees who work for Facebook and Amazon today. Those companies are different.
Randy: And they’re paying them a lot of money.
Mark: They make a lot of money. They got exciting work environments. They’ve got stock options.
Randy: They travel the world. I mean they do a lot.
Mark: You’ve got to realize. That’s who you’re competing against for the best and brightest talent really in a way. Even though this may not be other A/E firms. You really got to step up and realize it’s like a war out there.
Randy: To me it’s an issue because I think a lot of firms may think, well so and so went to school for four years or five years in the case of an architectural degree. They’re not going to go throw that away and go do something else. But the reality is some people are doing that and it’s happening. And that just means that the pool of resources is getting smaller and smaller.
Mark: We’re not just competing with other A/E firms for the talent anymore.
Randy: Right, which is why you have to kind of step out of your comfort zone and maybe do some things that you never thought you could do. Do you think that in some instances with some firms where they see they can’t do it but the reality is that they probably could? But they’re usually are owners that are wanting to keep too much money on the table or take money off the table, if you will…
Mark: Well, it’s not always the greedy owners that were driving it. There’s some of those out there. But I think more than anything else, it’s fear of somehow alienating the people in their firms who don’t get these things. You don’t get that money or whatever. So there’s a lot of fear of we don’t think we have the right people but we don’t want to alienate anybody that we have. So we can’t do anything differently. And that’s a problem. You’re never going to get where you’re going to go if that has to guide every decision where we haven’t done this before. Or I’ve never seen another firm that did that exact thing. So how can we do that thing? They’re so risk-averse. That becomes a part of the problem too.
Randy: And not that I want to pick a fight. Do you think engineers tend to be more risk-averse than architects?
Mark: I don’t know. You hate to generalize. Sometimes I think so. But not necessarily. Everybody’s different. If I were to generalize, I was just talking, I went out to dinner with a friend of mine last night. He was a former dean of the college of business here and he has a son who’s an architect. We’re just talking about some of his son’s employment experiences. And in one case, he worked for a guy who had an enormous ego. This guy wouldn’t let him do anything and would literally put the guy down publicly. I know the son. He’s a tremendous talent and a super nice guy by the way. I think if anything, that’s a problem in some firms is that it’s so ego-centric to owner that they can’t let anybody else do anything even if they have a talent and they’re threatened by anybody who’s good. And that’s really a problem. I probably see that more in the design side than I do the technical side frankly, if you want to generalize. But certainly, there’s plenty of architecture firms that are good places to work and engineering firms that are bad places to work and vice versa.
Randy: Again, I don’t think this problem is going away anytime soon because I think it’s beyond relevant and there is no one tool or resource that’s going to change anything. In addition to what AECWorkforce will offer, firms really just have to be creative in their thought in terms of how they approach their current employees, right? Because a lot of times, they miss out on opportunities to even just get the people that you currently have under your charge excited because it would get them excited. I think one of the statistics for the Recruitment and Retention 2017 book said that 59% of people that found jobs were found through employee referrals. I know you’re not a big fan of employee referral bonuses but the bottom line is that if you like something, you’ve got to tell somebody about it.
Mark: That’s why I don’t think you don’t need those bonuses. Because I think if your employees are happy, they’re naturally going to want to recruit their friends. And the downside of those bonuses is that if you don’t hire the candidates supplied by your employee, they then think you’re trying to screw them out of the $1500 you were going to pay them or whatever it is.
But you’re right. The network of other employees is how most companies fill the majority of their jobs. IT’s true. They got to feel good about it or they’re not going to be out there encouraging their friends to want to be there.
Randy: Yeah, and I mean there’s even programs out there now like Teamable.com and other programs that allow firms to leverage the social media context of their current employees in an above board way of course. But in a way that allows them to kind of share what’s going on there because that’s exciting to let people know this is what we’re doing in our job and we’re about to go do this and we’re going skiing this week. And we’re bringing somebody in that’s going to prepare meals for us one day. A lot of times, firms do great things and they just don’t tell anybody about it. It’s like the best kept secret. And I’m like why don’t you let the world know what you guys are doing?
Mark: We’re bad at that. We’re all introverts and we don’t toot our own horns.
Randy: Head down. Get the work done.
Mark: They may throw these people out there to interview and recruit people basically. And they have absolutely no skill on how to do that. They don’t sell anything. They talk about the company and the third person. I love that. You’ve got an interview. You got a candidate talking with a manager and the manager keeps referring to the company as they. I’ve seen that. It’s ludicrous. Who wants to go to work for that? And then we’ve had clients. We’ve had people who wanted us to extend job offers to candidates. I think that’s bizarre too. I mean the candidate is going to work for your company. They want to hear from you about why they should work there, not from somebody who doesn’t work there to make the job offer because you’re so busy or introvert. You’re showing a lack of interest. It’s what you’re showing. It’s bizarre. For whatever reason, in spite of the talent shortage we have and the inability to hire people that we have in this industry. We have this problem of being so unable to actually sell. It’s just amazing to me. It really is.
Randy: And I think people could really benefit from that just learning about sales and improving the ability to always be closing, if you can borrow a phrase from one of my favorite movies Glengarry Glen Ross. That is a really good one.
Mark: “My watch cost more than your car. Actually, your watch cost more than mine by far. But put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers.” “Grace, Grace, I need two tickets for Hong Kong…” I love that Jack Lemon talk to his fake secretary.
Randy: He was really funny. He was really good in that.
Mark: It’s pathetic. We don’t have to sell like that here in the A/E business thankfully. These companies are doing good things and they’re helping out the world and making it a better place and giving us clean air and water and good places to work and live and better transportation systems. These companies are doing good stuff. It should be easy to sell.
Randy: Yeah, but it’s just not their first inclination for a lot of people. That’s what we’re here for to try to help people out with that and certainly here at Zweig, we’re always available to listen over anybody’s challenges they have especially from a talent acquisition standpoint. It’s one of the reasons why we created hiring and keeping great talent and trying to help people really focus on the things that are really important. As I like to say, major in the minors because it’s those little things that will get you over the hump in the long run. If you do it really well then you’ll have some success. That’s some great information.
So I guess we’ll go ahead and end with just this thought that AECWorkforce is coming soon. I think it will, if we even get remotely close to some of the success you experienced in the past when you originally had gotten it on board especially with the technology that’s out there nowadays, I think everyone is going to want to be a part of what we’re doing with the AECWorkforce.
There’s new information coming out and you can certainly find out more information about what we’re doing at AECWorkforce by visiting AECWorkforce.com. You can also text the word HIREFASTER to 66866. And that will allow you to get on our email list. Find out more information about AECWorkforce and what is coming. You’ll be hearing more about it in the next 30 to 60 days, if not sooner. There will be some really interesting announcements surrounded around AECWorkforce and what we’re going to do. But our goal will be to make your life a little bit easier on the talent acquisition side of things, if nothing else, we’ll try to put the right people in front of you at the right time. And I certainly think that will be a big benefit to everyone listening here that has to hire somebody talented, to bring on board for one of their projects or something along those lines.