Running a professional firm (even a really good one) is exhausting.  There’s a constant expectation to perform, grow, and improve.  Each day is a journey – and often a battle.  Encouragement is necessary, as is courage. 

So, here’s a little different thought for today – on what may very well lie ahead:  

“I believe we’re now in a golden age for the professional design and construction industry.”

Although I’d like to own this take, credit must first go to my friend and colleague Gerry Salontai – who served it up a while back at a GeoProfessional Business Association Crystal Ball (Futures) Workshop we were involved with.

A Golden Age.  Hmm.

Frankly, it’s easier these days to binge on bad.  Cable news and social media know well that fear and anxiety sell. And it’s all too easy to fall into the hole of constant, daily doom-scrolling.

Further, as professionals, we’re challenged to want more – to search for new possibilities.  What else can and should we do? [My entire professional practice is built around this idea:  what’s next, what’s better, what’s great? and how do we get there?]

Most of my client firms are solid, well-run businesses, with very good results.  They’re smart, resilient, and successful. They’re full of talented, creative, and ambitious staff.  And still, most in leadership work too hard, many are perpetually exhausted, some are truly exasperated.  Burn-out and disengagement are real.  Few of these might instinctively think ‘golden age.’

Further we’re still struggling in places with the global pandemic, and experts say we’re also experiencing a ‘shadow pandemic’ of emotional distress following it.  We’re also taxed by supply chain disruptions everywhere, gas prices as high as they’ve ever been, inflation on a breakaway tear, and perhaps the toughest employment market in our lifetime.  Almost nothing in the economy is working really well, the stock market is a mess, and our politics suggest we can’t agree on anything of real importance.  A golden age?

Nevertheless, here’s a truth:  the source of our optimism is simply this … extraordinary fundamentals:

  1. Demand is Soaring:  Firm backlogs are burgeoning as clients push to get pent up projects going.  The federal infrastructure bill is now law, with a huge slug of public sector projects queued up (and even more private sector work to come with these).  
  • Expertise is Valuable:  The big challenges we face aren’t getting easier.  Infrastructure, social spending, climate change, demographic shifts, immigration, personal and public security, education, healthcare … the value of designers, builders, and multi-disciplinary problem-solvers is rising – and this will continue.
  • Technology is Transforming:  We’re deep now into an amazing revolution in our world – changing everything about how we live and interact, what we do and how we do it, the nature of work and life itself.  The pace of this change is exploding (so who knows where we’re really headed)?  Technological acceleration will continue to remake virtually everything – faster and faster – and constantly demanding new creativity, innovation, and action.  [I’ve just read this morning about a new company in Texas making a new, fully electric, DeLorean car.  So, it’s back to, the back to the future, is it?]
  • Talent is Scarce:  In the design, engineering, and construction space we most often think of this as a problem –a lack of skilled project workers.  But interestingly, other professionals don’t. Doctors keep the pool of talent scarce on purpose.  And most professionals – lawyers, actors, speakers, consultants – enjoy a high end of the market where talent is very scarce – and highly rewarded.  Scarcity suggests more (differential) value, and more value means higher fees. [At a recent conference I asked a CEO panel about this talent scarcity, and all the panelists agreed:  professional fees must (and will) go up.]

Businesses in the AEC markets do face a number of challenges ahead – and a few of these are big (even existential) concerns.  But for most the sky isn’t falling, the outlook ahead is strong, and there is considerable room for optimism. For those firms, now is the time for future-focused, forward-thinking, mission and vision driven organizations to accelerate into the unknown opportunity ahead.

Time to dream big.  To act big.  To achieve big. 

A golden age.

What say you?


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