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Welcome Back AEC – Please Stick Around For A While

Written By: John Poole on January 24, 2016 No Comment

While we may not often talk about them, we all remember the dark ages. These are the years where work in the architecture, engineering, and construction field fell to levels not seen for, at a minimum, decades. I was not one of the lucky who lived in a castle with a moat, so I was left scrounging and fighting for work (and writing a blog about it). I cringe at the thought of years like 2009, 2010, and (gasp) 2011. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction industry unemployment hit a whopping 27.1% in February of 2010.

For those of us that thrive on quantification, the United States Census Bureau puts out values of construction spending.  They show 2009 coming in at $906 billion, $809 billion in 2010, and a robust $788 billion in 2011.  While 2015 numbers are not yet finalized, October 2015 shows construction spending at a $1,107 billion annual clip, and the AIA projects an increase in non-residential spending of 8.2% in 2016.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a construction industry unemployment rate for December 2015 of 7.5%.

Long story short, we’re doing a heck of a lot better now than we were in 2009, 10, or 11.

This is good, and we should be thrilled and feel fortunate that we are working in a thriving industry at the moment.  However, while it may not always be pleasant to remember and discuss the bad times, I think it’s important to do so.  It may be easier to throw our hands up and say that we can’t control the economy and we just have to play the cards we are dealt.  But this is not the kind of attitude that will provide long term success, growth, and improvement.

So what will provide long term success, growth, and improvement?

Well, I’m not really sure, but I can tell you how I’ve learned to navigate the peaks and valleys that we often encounter as members of the AEC industry.

Since we hit rock bottom, I’ve loaded up with State and Federal government work.  The pay isn’t the highest and the paperwork and documentation requirements can be tedious, however, it is very steady, they pay on time, and the system can be learned and repeated.  A pipeline full of government projects is great to have should things fall apart on the private side.

I also run my own business.  This is obviously not an across the board option, and it took me a while to get there, but if you’ve got the the ambition and wherewithal, running your own business can reduce the risk of your income going to zero.  In other words, you may lose a client or project here and there, but you probably won’t lose everything all at one time, like you would if you lost a job.

As for the industry as a whole, I actually do throw my hands up.  I’m afraid that we (or they) won’t learn from what occurred during the early part of this decade.  There are plenty of folks, especially in an election year, talking about not repeating the past, etc., but c’mon, it’s kind of a tough thing to stop.

However, perhaps it can be slowed, or at least become less frequent, so this lively construction market will stay – at least for a while.


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