Skip to content

ACEC Roundtable: Hiring/Retainment Ideas for Small AE Firms


My favorite part of my job is attending industry conferences! I’ve always felt is important to keep a pulse on the industry so that we know what issues/challenges our customers are facing. Education sessions at conferences and tradeshows are definitely worthwhile but roundtables with open yet structured conversations are invaluable.

The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Small Firm Council (SFC) Winter Meeting last week was no exception. There were a variety of topics on the table for these Owners and Principals of 1-50 person Engineering firms that included everything from the Affordable Care Act to Social Media. The conversation that really caught my attention was about Hiring. I want to share a few observations from the trenches.

All attendees agreed that hiring Engineers is very tough these days and keeping them might be even harder. Companies across the country are using a variety of hiring methods including Headhunters, interns from local colleges and career fairs. However, these small firms mainly agreed that career fairs are hard for them to participate in because the Owner themselves don’t have time to attend and they don’t have the large marketing and HR department to represent them. It was shared that it is important to build a relationship with your local universities so that the Professors and engineering department heads can be sure to educate about the small firm opportunities as well as the large.

It is key to note that it was also mentioned that across the board firms need to use their young bright leaders to help attract new hires. These current employees can use their social media outlets, associations and social groups to help “spread the word” about your firm. Several people in the room also mentioned using hiring incentives to help attract key people and that this can be less expensive than using a head hunter.

Retaining employees was also a hot topic and the discussion included using additional incentives that varied from giving days off to do public service work, to letting people work from home when possible to offering a flex schedule.

My firm offers time/billing software so I was very intrigued with how firms track the flex scheduled and one comment from a Principal who said that he uses his time sheet tracking that offers real-time reporting to know who is working and when and what project /billable work they are getting done. “It is the management part of my job” he said. I’ve always looked at the timesheet portion of our software as a tool to make sure you are billable or to have a pulse on staff utilization in general but it is also great to know that it can help you monitor flex time for your staff – and our system happens to also include an In/Out board that would definitely lessen the management time involved in this tracking.

Once again I learned that if I open my eyes to the challenges that AE firms face that I can happily help provide a solution.

Thank you, ACEC, for a great roundtable!