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New Federal Laws for Overtime Pay in Architecture

Looming changes to federal overtime rules could have a lasting impact on the architectural industry, particularly among firms that expect junior employees to work long hours for low salaries.

Beginning December 1, salaried workers who earn up to $47,476 a year must be paid time-and-a-half if they work more than 40 hours during the week. The previous cutoff was $23,660 a year. The new rule applies to companies of all sizes, affecting most employees, including those working in creative fields like architecture.

The changes could rattle industries that have long used a federal exemption for so-called “creative professionals” to avoid paying some workers overtime. The Labor Depart­ment currently gives businesses wide latitude in deciding who meets the criteria. But under the new rules, no one making less than $47,476 a year could be considered a creative professional exempt from overtime.

Critics worry that the changes could unfairly burden businesses, particularly smaller ones with less financial flexibility. But supporters insist that overhauling outdated labor rules will improve working conditions and ultimately encourage firms to think more carefully about how they run their businesses.

“Architecture is but one of many industries that for decades has gotten a free ride because of the weakness of the regulations,” says Judy Conti, the federal advocacy coordinator at the National Employment Law Project. “This new regulation is going to set a salary guideline that is much more in line with a professional salary.”

In 2015, the median annual salary for a first-­year intern architect was $42,000, and $46,000 for a second-year intern, according to a survey by the American Institute of Architects. To comply with the law, employers will have to give employees raises, start paying overtime, or scale back hours. “People are going to get either more money or more hours of their lives back,” says Conti. “Both of those are good things.”

In 2013, Alexandre Hamlyn earned $2,000 a month working 50 hours a week at a large architecture firm in New York. Teams working on competitions put in 90-hour weeks, without additional pay, he said. “Because you don’t get overtime, then the time is not really valued,” says Hamlyn, 27. “So they just make you work and work and work.” Hamlyn, who is now an intern architect in Montreal and paid hourly, requested that the name of the firm be withheld, since he considers the problem endemic to the industry.

Firms may soon have to pay more attention to how their businesses operate, scrutinizing how much they charge clients and how late employees stay at the office. “If you don’t have abor laws, you’re not going to understand how labor actually figures into your business plan,” says Peggy Deamer, professor at the Yale School of Architecture and a principal at Deamer Architects. “That kind of loose, naive take [on labor] goes hand in hand with a discipline that doesn’t see itself as a business, but sees itself as an art.”

But other architects interviewed for this story say few of their colleagues are discussing the changes, and some are unaware that labor laws even apply to salaried employees. Several firms declined to comment, including Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Robert A.M. Stern Architects. “Folks at firms aren’t too enthusiastic about sharing their thoughts on the potential impact of the new rule,” Matthew Tinder, a spokesperson for AIA, said in an e-mail. The AIA declined to comment any further.

Critics of the changes argue that architecture salaries are often lower than other skilled professions because of the nature of the business. “Our clients don’t want to pay the higher fees,” says Craig Williams, the chief legal officer of HKS Architects, describing the new rules as a government intrusion on the private sector. Some firms will have to raise client fees, potentially making it difficult to compete against firms that can absorb higher labor costs. “There is always someone down the street who’s willing to take a project on for a lower fee,” Williams said.

But clients might be willing to pay more, particularly in a heady real-estate market where architecture is in demand. By giving employees a raise, firms might end up getting one too. Rena Klein, the principal of RM Klein Consulting, which works with small architecture firms, says: “Along with people being underpaid, people are undervaluing themselves in the marketplace.” 


Source: Architectural Record

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Tips for Conducting the Employee Exit Interview

In today's war for talent among AEC companies, many business leaders wish they knew what they could have done to keep a departing employee. Effective exit interviews can give you that insight. They can teach you how to replicate good experiences, and help to avoid bad ones.

Exit interviews are the one of the last meaningful conversations employees have with their company. It represents a chance for employees to provide a review of their experience; an opportunity to affirm the contributions they've made to your company.

Although it may be tempting to vent, when both parties focus on understanding and knowledge sharing, exit interviews can help professional relationships end on a high note. Many times the feedback employees provide is positive, and when it's not, it gives insight on how to course-correct for existing employees.

Planning the Meeting 

Whenever possible it is best to meet face-to-face for an exit interview. Employees appreciate the gesture, and it is conducive to more productive conversations.

You can also issue a written exit survey, and then follow up with an in-person meeting. Some employees may want to reflect and gather their thoughts in advance, but responses tend to be less candid when written.

Schedule the exit interview at the very end of the employment; ideally during the final days.

You may want to explain why you are conducting the exit interview, and have your questions planned ahead of time.

Questions to Ask

While you never want the conversation to appear scripted, there are a few key topics to hone in on while conducting an exit interview. You may want to also consider asking some of the same questions for every exit interview. Doing so helps to compare answers and identify common themes.

Open the interview by telling the employee that he/she doesn't have to answer any or all of the questions. Also ask permission to share responses with other internal management.

Here are some questions that are beneficial to ask:

  1. Why did you decide to leave?
  2. What is the company doing well, and what is the company doing poorly?
  3. How could conditions be improved?
  4. What would you do to improve the situation that is causing you to leave?
  5. How do other employee's feel about that same situation, and the company overall?
  6. What can the company start doing that would improve things?
  7. Please describe your overall experience working here? If possible, please help me understand why you are leaving.
  8. What are three things you enjoyed most about working here?
  9. What are the top 3 things you would change?
  10. Are there any ideas that you would have liked to implement while working here?
  11. Please describe the pros and cons of working with your supervisor
  12. Who are the three people who have made the most positive impact on your time here?
  13. What advice would you give to the next person in your position?

What to Avoid

Try to keep the focus of the exit interview on the company. The information gathered should be helpful, constructive feedback that can be used to improve the company.

It's important to be wary of discrimination, harassment complaints or bad management that is pointed out, but you don't want to fuel the fire. These conversations give employees an opportunity to share their opinions, however be careful not to engage in negative discussion.

  1. Don't feed into office gossip. The reliability is questionable, and won't be constructive.
  2. Don't ask targeted questions about specific issues or people. You should not interject your own opinions, but it is okay to ask for general feedback on a supervisor.
  3. Don't lay the groundwork that may indicate someone will be terminated. An employee's status and performance within the company should not be shared.
  4. Don't say anything that could be mistaken for slander. You should listen without agreeing or disagreeing with the point being made.
  5. Don't get into personal issues. Keep the conversation work-related and professional.
  6. Don't use this as an opportunity to present a counter offer or stay with your company.

Processing the Feedback

Every exit interview should help identify areas for improvement within the company. Share key takeaways from the meeting with the employee's supervisor or the next level up.

Look for patterns in feedback from departing employees to identify potential organization issues. It may be helpful to input meeting notes into a spreadsheet in order to scan the information and find similar comments. If you do notice a trend, take it to leadership with recommendations for actions that can be taken to avoid losing additional employees.




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Companies Use Recruiters for Hiring Speed

Many architecture, building engineering, and construction companies outsource some or all of their job openings to a recruiter. The number one reason for doing so is speed; they want the job filled fast.

The recent findings of a Society for Human Resource Management survey indicate the majority of respondents turned to recruiters because there was a need to hire quickly. The next leading reason to leverage an outside recruiter was to gain access to an agency's talent and recruiting expertise. 

There are great disparities in the speed at which architecture recruiting agencies in Minneapolis / St. Paul can fill positions. AEC Resources' average time-to-hire is currently 18.7 days. This is the time it takes us to fill an open position from the day we receive it. 

You work with a staffing agency and a recruiter to quickly and easily fill open positions, which is why our process emphasizes speed and quality of talent. If you are evaluating temp agencies for architects and engineers, work with a company that focuses on AEC positions only, and reap the rewards of a highly specialized process that delivers great people - fast.

The recruiters at AEC Resources can help you quickly fill the following positions: Architect, Architectural Intern, Project Architect, Project Manager, Drafter, Designer, Drafting Technician, Mechanical Engineer, Structural Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Civil Engineer, Engineer In Training (EIT), CAD/BIM/VDC positions, and many more.


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Average Job Vacancy Reaches Another All-Time High

The average time-to-hire statistic climbed to 27.8 working days in May of 2015. This is another all-time high, and is 3.3 days above its May 2014 value, according to the July DHI Hiring Indicators recently released. 

This mean vacancy duration figure is 23% greater than in May 2007, before the onset of the recession and financial crisis. 

The duration measure reflects the vacancy concept in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. Specifically, a job order gets "filled" when a job offer for the position is accepted. So the vacancy duration statistics refer to the average length of time required to fill open positions.

Elevated levels of vacancy durations suggest that it is becoming harder to for employers to find the right person for the job. In particular, the demand for talent in professional services is increasing while the pool of available talent is shrinking, and competition for this smaller pool is intensifying. This trend is making it increasingly difficult for employers to find top talent. 

Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms are subject to the same challenging hiring conditions. The business climate is such that many firms have opportunities to capitalize on with projects underway or starting soon, however the critical issue is securing the right talent needed.

The average time-to-hire for positions AEC Resources has been engaged to fill in 2015 is 19.7 days. In many instances, this includes the two week notice. AEC Resources outperforms the national average, meaning we bring you great people - fast.

If you are struggling to fill an open position within architecture or engineering, and would like the assistance of a recruiting agency to quickly secure the perfect fit, contact AEC Resources today. AEC Resources provides temp workers for short term project assingments, and recruiting services for permanent positions.

We specialize in providing top talent for the following AEC positions: Registered Architect, Intern Architect, Project Architect, Mechanical Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Plumbing/Piping Engineer, Engineer in Training (EIT), Structural Engineer, Civil Engineer, BIM/CAD Manager, BIM/CAD Coordinator, Technician, Drafter, and many others.


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Contract Staffing to Grow 6% in U.S.

The U.S. contract staffing industry has been forecast to grow 6% in 2015 according to the "U.S. Staffing Industry Forecast" released by Staffing Industry Analysts in April. The increased usage of temp staffing is prevalent across all industries, but is rapidly rising in popularity within architecture, engineering and construction firms.

What is driving this trend?

There are external factors like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and increases in administrative and insurance costs which are driving incremental adoption of temporary staffing, however contract staffing is being used as a competitive advantage to the AEC industry for other reasons.

Yep, I said it. The word that keeps us in the office long hours during the day and unable to sleep when we get home. Deadlines loom and Murphy's Law generally applies. Contract staffing can fill short term needs with highly qualified talent to help keep projects on time and clients, and bosses, happy.

Winning New Work:
Has your firm ever been awarded a new project you never imagined would be won? It is not uncommon. When AEC firms need to build new teams quickly, the assistance of a staffing agency can help you ramp up on short notice.

Scaling Up & Down as Needed:
Say goodbye to seasonal spikes or workload fluctuation nightmares. Contract staffing services can help architects, engineers, and construction companies adjust to accommodate your backlog. Manage the demands of your business by quickly increasing or downsizing your workforce.

Try Before You Buy:
Ever had a candidate embellish in an interview? Ever made a bad hire? Didn't think so. But just in case, AEC firms like observing and evaluating performance before making a permanent hiring decision. Contract staffing can be leveraged as an effective hiring strategy to test a potential employee's fit.


AEC Resources specializes in providing top talent to architecture, engineering, and construction companies through temp staffing services. By focusing on the AEC industry, we have a deep understanding of your unique business needs. With a refreshingly new approach to supplementing your workforce, including free technical training for all our employees, we have become a staffing solutions provider to AEC firms nationwide. 


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