recently, we put our first advertised job posting out in four years. there's several reasons for the time lag, not all of them due to the economy or a downturn in our fortunes. on the contrary, we've done relatively well- steady, but well - during that stretch. the biggest issue is we haven't had much turnover in our professional staff. two, to be exact, and both were moving on for personal reasons than anything else.
so, when we decided to open this position, we naturally included an ad on archinect as part of our strategy. paul and the archinect staff have put together a wonderful primer about how to improve your chances - it's definitely worth the read and i won't pretend to be able to add to it. and i'll say we did get responses. a lot. over 80 in 7 days. for a little ole firm in atlanta.
what amazed me, though, was the types of responses we received. and, maybe, what it says about the market right now.
to summarize quickly: we were looking for a project architect/manager (combo) who could run small projects with some independence. a past project history in workplace design (including interiors) was a bonus. if you were also a registered interior designer, that would be a bonus. we deliberately left off a # of years thinking this might come across as being a little too limiting or prejudicial (a mistake in hindsight, although we were aiming to find someone with 4-8 years of experience). in summary, here's a snapshot at what we received:
about 30% of the applications were from interior designers or interior design graduates. most of these were located in georgia.
about 40% of the applications came from overseas applicants, with a vast majority of those from the EU. (i knew it was bad, but still....)
only 3 applications fell into the 4-8 years of experience range.
about 35% of the applications were from people who had 20+ years of experience.
about 20% of the applications were from people who had their own firms currently (some of these were, on the surface, related to being laid off recently and were less than a few years old, but a lot more were from people who had their own firms for a longer period of time).
finally, about 10% of the applications came from people whose last position had been as a principal in another firm (in most cases quite large firms).
it's the last three groups/stats above that really took my breath away as i just wasn't prepared to receive those kinds of responses. and that group is the one that really got me re-thinking about where we are as an industry (and a little bit about the economy overall):
for all of the hype and encouragement we hear about starting your own business, i'm more convinced than ever that, quite bluntly, a vast majority of the people simply don't want to. they just want to be able to plug into a system or company or studio or whatever structure already exists. they simply want the security of a steady paycheck. the 'risks' they're willing to take are minimal in certain respects. and they're the ones wholly unprepared for the bomb that went off 4 years ago. (and to be fair, should they have been on constant vigilance?)
this is a major issue we're failing collectively to address in any meaningful way. and the fact that we're just letting so much of the knowledge base of the profession just wither away will hurt our overall competitiveness in the future. we're already being asked these kinds of questions by our clients: 'when the work comes back, who's going to have the experience to lead them properly?” that's a real issue for them - they see the same exodus, the same shuffling of musical chairs between the large firms. the problem? the raw job opportunities aren't coming back (at that level) for most of that group - the ones who've had a career that's led to a partnership that's now lying in waste. they just aren't. there isn't anywhere else to 'just plug in' at the same level* - it's why we (and i'm sure others) are getting their responses to ads like this.
*(i'll throw in the other observation here – i've talked to way too many people at the “C” level who've been laid off or close to it talk about how they want to jump to the owner's representation side – to become an in-house PM for some corporation. i don't know of any objective studies that have mapped out this kind of response – all i'm going on is anecdotal evidence – but it would be really interesting to know how many people at the higher levels are leaving for the supposedly 'safer' position on the other side of the equation).
the hope in this situation? there are handfuls of people who ARE making the transition - who never dreamed they'd be able to do this on their own but just are. and realizing it's not the end of the world either. it's work -hard, sometimes thankless - but it is doable. it's incredibly heartening to see the successes.
still, based on our experiences the past few weeks, i do wonder: just how many people would be thrilled to plug back into a more secure structure if given the chance....
Central to the blog is a long running interest in how we construct practices that enable and promote the kind of work we are all most interested in. From how firms are run, structured, and constructed, the main focus will be on exploring, expanding and demystifying how firms operate. I’ll be interviewing different practices – from startups to nationally recognized firms, bringing to print at least one a month. Our focus will be connecting Archinect readers with the business of practice.