Engineering Talent Task Force

The AOBA Educational Foundation (the “Foundation”) was established in August of 2017 based upon the recommendations of AOBA’s Engineering Talent Task Force. The Task Force’s Report is summarized below:

Executive Summary

Recruiting, training, and retaining building engineers is widely believed to be one of the most significant challenges facing the commercial real estate industry.  Many commercial real estate companies have attempted to tackle this problem on an individual basis – with somewhat limited results.  Despite the best attempts of these companies to put together their own solutions, the “building engineering talent problem” is thought to be much larger than what can be accomplished by companies operating independently.

AOBA’s Engineering Survey | Commercial Executive Roundtable

In order to more fully understand the depth and breadth of the problem, AOBA distributed an engineering staffing survey to 83 of its members in the June 2016.  Seventeen members returned surveys.  While the results are not necessarily statistically reliable, they do offer a glimpse about the extent of the problem and its impact on AOBA’s members.

On September 14, 2016, AOBA brought together a variety of constituencies for a Commercial Executive Roundtable focused on Increasing the Pipeline for Building Engineers and Helping to “Grow our Own.”

The Opportunity

AOBA is in a unique position to help its member companies effectively address the industry-wide “engineering talent problem.”  By pooling the resources of the organization and its members, AOBA can dramatically change how the industry recruits, trains, and retains building engineers throughout the Washington DC market – and potentially at a later date – across the country.

In 2016, the AOBA Board of Directors authorized the creation of an Engineering Talent Task Force to provide strategic direction for this initiative.

Mission and Vision


 

Competency Guidelines

Ideally, the engineering initiative will serve building engineering staff members at all phases of their careers – from entry-level to executive-level.  Engineering team members go by a variety of different titles, and job descriptions vary widely from company-to-company.  In order to ensure the engineering initiative addresses engineering opportunities over the full duration of an employee’s career, the task force identified four specific career levels:  entry-level, mid-level, senior-level, and executive-level.

Link to Competency Guidelines

Gathering Information on Industry Needs

The task force focused on several strategic areas, including:

  • Rebranding
  • Creating a Candidate Pool
  • Recruiting
  • Competency Guidelines
  • Education
  • Enrichment
  • AOBA Foundation
  • Funding
  • Action Items: Priorities and Timeline

The “Problem

Recruiting, training, and retaining building engineers is widely believed to be one of the most significant challenges facing the commercial real estate industry.  Many commercial real estate companies have attempted to tackle this problem on an individual basis – with somewhat limited results.  Despite the best attempts of these companies to put together their own solutions, the “building engineer problem” is thought to be much larger than what can be accomplished by companies operating independently.

AOBA’s Engineering Survey

Commercial Executive Roundtable

The Opportunity

AOBA is in a unique position to help its member companies effectively address the industry-wide “engineering talent problem.”  By pooling the resources of the organization and its members, AOBA can dramatically change how the industry recruits, trains, and retains building engineers throughout the Washington DC market – and potentially at a later date – across the country.

In 2016, the AOBA Board of Directors authorized the creation of an Engineering Talent Task Force to provide strategic direction for this initiative.

The Engineering Talent Task Force

The teams met separately to determine:

  • Major strategic priorities in each area
  • Major tactical/action items to support the strategic initiatives identified above
  • Resources (financial and otherwise) needed to move forward
  • A timeline of key milestones

Each of these topics is addressed in more detail.


AOBA has the unique opportunity to create an ongoing, comprehensive solution that will:

  • Identify emerging building engineering needs
  • Rebrand and promote building engineering career opportunities
  • Identify and establish ongoing relationships with resources to increase the pool of motivated candidates
  • Develop competency guidelines for entry-level, mid-level, senior-level, and executive-level building engineers in the market
  • Identify training and development opportunities (including classroom-based, hands-on, and experiential components) for each level of building engineers
  • Provide professional enrichment opportunities for building engineers
  • Identify opportunities for long-term funding solutions

Our work product will promote significant, innovative, and lasting change.

Gathering Information on Industry Needs

As detailed previously, the data that was gathered as part of the engineering survey in the summer of 2016 is most likely not statistically sound.  As a result, the information is probably insufficient to be used as a basis for decision making.

The task force believes it is important to gather detailed information about industry needs and the specific needs of AOBA members.  Doing so will ensure the initiatives championed by AOBA will meet the needs of the member companies and will actually solve the engineering talent problem.

Rebranding Information

Recruiting | Creating a Candidate Pool

Apprenticeship Programs

Although there was discussion about an apprenticeship program at various times during the task force meetings, the members do not recommend creating such a program at this time.  They favor helping member companies work with potential candidates through a structured internship program instead.  However, an apprenticeship program might become a long-term objective as the engineering talent initiative evolves over time. 

Competitors

The task force identified these primary competitors for candidates who might otherwise consider a career in building engineering:

  • Other trades (HVAC mechanics, electricians, plumbers, etc.) – union and non-union
  • Military – People who enlist in the military are often high school graduates who are looking for a career path and, through the new GI Bill, are seeking money to pay for their education. Although we intend to target enlisted military members who are pursuing a second career, there might be an opportunity to appeal to these individuals by showing that building engineering can be a lucrative career and that education costs are almost always paid by employers.
  • Construction workers (especially given the volatility of the construction industry)
  • Hospitality workers
  • Healthcare workers
  • Government workers

While it is important to understand with whom we are competing for engineering talent, the real value is that we might be able to specifically target individuals in these areas as part of our recruiting efforts.

SkillsUSA

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce.  SkillsUSA helps each student excel by providing educational programs, events. and competitions that support career and technical education (CTE) in the nation’s classrooms.

SkillsUSA improves the quality of America’s skilled workforce through a structured program of citizenship, leadership, employability, technical, and professional skills training.  SkillsUSA enhances the lives and careers of students, instructors and industry representatives as they strive to be champions at work.

SkillsUSA serves more than 300,000 students and instructors annually.  The organization has 13,000 school chapters in 54 state and territorial associations.  More than 14,500 instructors and administrators are professional members of SkillsUSA.

Locally, SkillsUSA is administered by the state/local Boards of Education or a technical college:

  • Maryland State Board of Education – Division of Career Technology and Adult Learning
  • Virginia – New River Community College
  • DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education – Office of Career & Technology Education

Education and Enrichment

The task force identified the need to direct building engineers in all stages of their careers to workforce training programs.

Existing local training sources include:

  • Entry-level
    • NAPE
    • Local public school systems (particularly through the systems’ vocational programs)
    • Colleges (University of DC, Montgomery College, Prince George’s Community College, etc.)
    • Trade schools (Lincoln Tech)
  • Mid-Level
    • NAPE
    • Colleges (University of DC, Montgomery College, Prince George’s Community College, etc.)
    • Trade schools (Lincoln Tech)
    • BOMA/BOMI
    • IFMA
    • Mentoring and career guidance
  • Senior-Level and Executive-Level
    • Professional associations (American Association of Energy Engineers, American Management Association, etc.)
    • Colleges
    • BOMA/BOMI
    • IFMA
  • Professional Enrichment
    • AOBA programs
    • BOMA/BOMI
    • Local trade shows
    • National professional organizations

There might be a benefit associated with aligning the various education offerings so candidates receive credit from multiple sources for the same course.  For example, imagine how it would help an engineer’s career if we could find a way to align the NAPE curriculum with Montgomery College’s engineering program.  The student would receive a NAPE completion certificate and college credit – and he/she would be able to use all of the resources from the college (math lab, ESOL courses, etc.) to ensure success.

As you can see from the competency matrix, the expectation is that all entry-level employees would possess basic hand tool skills and other foundational knowledge prior to beginning a career in the engineering field.  The task force felt that some of the candidates who will be targeted as part of the recruitment effort will not have these requisite skills.  To assist these candidates, AOBA should identify and support existing pre-employment training programs to teach basic skills (like basic tool use) to candidates who have no formal, hands-on training in the trades.  NAPE has an entry-level course called Introduction to Engineering that might be a formal program we can support.  Ideally, the AOBA Foundation would offset a part of the course cost so the basic knowledge is available to all potential candidates.

Enrichment Opportunities

In the long term, it might be valuable for AOBA to create courses – particularly those focused on management and leadership – designed to teach the skills needed for success as upper-level (senior and executive) building engineers.  Borrowing from an initiative developed by the National Apartment Association (NAA) (detailed below), there is value in creating an industry-customized leadership training program for senior engineers – perhaps built in partnership with leadership development experts like Gallup, Dale Carnegie, or Franklin Covey.

Given the expansion of online training over the past decade, the task force supports partnering with education providers to produce online education courses as well as courses that include educational best practices like scenario-based learning, simulations, mobile learning, apps, and virtual classrooms to accelerate preparation for and advancement in engineering careers.

AOBA Foundation

The task force supports the creation of a non-profit foundation that will serve as a vehicle to manage the engineering talent initiative and receive tax deductible contributions toward this goal.

Funding

Action Items:  Priorities and Timeline

The task force prioritized a number of Action Items, and they recommend the AOBA Board of Directors approve and fund these specific initiatives:

2017

Gather Information About Industry Needs

AOBA is in the best position to survey its members about their needs.  Depending upon the specific scope of work of the data gathering portion of the rebranding initiative, AOBA may choose to either develop/send or (preferably) send a survey developed by an agency to its members.

The task force believes an agency will have the resources available to generate a survey tool – including both qualitative and quantitative information – that will generate actionable data.  Key information to be gathered includes:

  • The size of the existing market and predicted market growth
  • The number of existing and predicted positions foll levels of building engineers – from entry-level to executive-level
  • The skill sets engineers need (today and in the future) to be successful at all levels
  • The size and composition of each of the target markets

Regardless whether the survey will be prepared and sent by AOBA staff or (preferably) the agency, task force members should be included in the process of developing the questions that will be posed to AOBA members.  This will most likely be a collaborative process between the agency and the task force.  The agency will help us create a reliable and valid survey instrument, and the task force members (as subject matter experts) will ensure the questions that are included in the survey are accurate.

NAPE is in the process of conducting a “needs assessment” of its members as part of an initiative to ensure their course offerings align with the educational needs of the students and their employers.  NAPE has agreed to share the results of this survey with AOBA when the study has been finalized.

Task force members should identify a strategic “hit list” of 5ade schools, vocational schools, military resources, community colleges, etc. that will connect us with a representative sample that touches all target markets.  The initial group of resources should focus on:

  • Vocational schools (like Lincoln Tech and local vocational high schools)
  • Community colleges
  • Military

The goal of these connections is not necessarily to recruit potential prospective employees (particularly since we will be talking with these individuals before we have a program to offer).  Instead, the purpose will be:

  • Fact finding to solicit information from these constituents to better understand how we should communicate with them, what aspects of the engineering field resonate with them, etc.
  • Fact finding from potential resources – Solicit information from the various constituencies that will allow us to understand how we can best connect with them and how to create a partnership that will ultimately hire their students.
  • Identifying other opportunities to connect – the “hit list” of schools and other resources will undoubtedly be able to help us identify additional opportunities to expand our reach.

Rebranding Initiative

AOBA should hire an agency – contingent upon receiving adequate funding from outside sources – to create a rebranding initiative that encourages potential candidates to consider a career in building engineering.  The agency will help to craft messaging that “works” for each of our target markets.

The rebranding initiative will include:

  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Communication plan
    • Media
    • Social media
    • Website development
    • Collateral materials
    • Printed media campaign
    • Videos

We will create a business plan that will prioritize each of these initiatives based upon budgetary and time constraints.

The task force believes the rebranding campaign for building engineers might “cross over” into a branding/awareness initiative for property managers as well.  While this may offer a secondary benefit of the rebranding initiative, the initial focus should be exclusively on rebranding as it relates to building engineering.

As part of the rebranding campaign, the task force envisions creating a “Careers in Engineering” website and collateral materials as directed by (and with the assistance of) the agency.  Borrowing from the National Apartment Association initiative, NAAEI NOW: Today’s Investment, Tomorrow’s Workforce, we have an opportunity to:

  • Expand the industry by raising its profile and better educating and recruiting new talent
  • Create a “hub” to serve as an online meeting place that links management companies and job seekers
  • Offer training and career tools
  • Act as a springboard for outreach and awareness campaigns
  • Link students to engineering programs at NAPE, colleges, trade schools, and other training options
  • Launch a social media and digital advertising campaign to drive qualified traffic to the website
  • Create a YouTube channel – similar to the channel Engineering Explained – that explores topics relating to building engineering. The hope is that the channel will “draw” potential candidates – who will then become excited about building engineering as a career.
  • Create a regional public relations and recruitment campaign – targeting college students, transitioning military, adult learners, and career changers – that highlights the strengths associated with the commercial real estate industry as well as the opportunities and benefits of a career within it.
  • Conduct an awareness program for human resources professionals to alert them to the pipelines of talent being created through AOBA programs
  • As part of the rebranding campaign, create an “infographic” to show the various pathways that a candidate can use in order to obtain the requisite training for each level of engineering. The goal is to show that there are many pathways to success in the field.

One Page Marketing Piece

AOBA should prepare a one-page handout that summarizes the “value proposition” and key “selling points” for a career in building engineering.  The handout will be used to provide the rebranding agency with the background information needed to understand the building engineer field.  It may then also form the basis of the website and any other collateral material the agency recommends we produce.

A brochure from NAAEI’s NOW: Today’s Investment, Tomorrow’s Workforce is attached as Exhibit 3.  This is an excellent example of the type of collateral material we are likely to create.

AOBA Foundation

AOBA should create a 501(c)3 foundation that will provide a legal framework to operate this initiative.  AOBA staff will work to create a business plan for the foundation, and the actual approval for the foundation will be sought from the AOBA Board of Directors once the business plan has been completed and appropriately vetted.  We believe the legal costs to set up the foundation would not exceed $10,000.

Funding

AOBA should evaluate and select a professional grant writer, evaluate sources for grants and other funding sources, and begin soliciting seed money to get the Foundation started.

As a first step, AOBA should engage the services of a professional grant writer – with seed money of up to $15,000 – to identify and secure grants from a variety of sources, including:

  • Federal (Department of Labor, Department of Defense, etc.)
    • Federal Department of Labor – Workforce Development Act
  • Maryland/Virginia/DC (Department of Labor, etc.)
  • Private foundations and funding sources
  • Utility companies

In the future, the task force recommends exploring partnerships with AOBA member companies, associate members, and other constituencies.

“Soft” Roll Out

The task force believes AOBA should have a “soft” roll out of the program in the fall of 2017 – based upon the success of our grant writing and funding campaign – that will include action items like these:

  • Communicate about the program to AOBA members and create “buzz”
  • Introduce the program to a select group of trade schools, vocational schools, military resources, community colleges, etc.
  • Create a “white paper” to define the “engineering talent” problem and explain AOBA’s unique program to address this issue
  • Introduce the website and collateral resources (recognizing that these resources are likely to remain a “work in progress” over time)
  • Introduce a centralized job bank of engineering openings at member companies
  • Hold an Engineering Careers job fair (or a series of job fairs that target specific target audiences, geographic regions, etc.)
  • Solicit feedback about all aspects of the soft roll out and make changes as needed to ensure the program meets the needs of all constituents
  • Identify a “hit list” of property management companies to create pathways for candidates we identify during the “soft” roll out

NAPE:  Ready to Work

NAPE is in the process of creating a “Ready to Work” program that introduces low-skilled workers to careers in the trades.  They are working to ensure the course cost does not exceed $500.  The AOBA Foundation should evaluate the option to fund a portion of this program to help bring these potential employees into the “pipeline.”

2018 and 2019

Campaign Roll Out

The task force believes AOBA should have a formal roll out of the program in 2018 that will include these action items:

  • Continuously solicit feedback from the various constituencies and, based upon that feedback, adjust the program over time to ensure it continues to meet the needs of member companies and job seekers
  • Develop a framework for a structured internship program – as well as whatever collateral materials are required to support such a program. The goal would be for AOBA to make it easy for the member companies to hire high school and college interns to explore engineering opportunities.
  • Expand the community outreach to trade schools, vocational schools, military resources, community colleges, etc. beyond the select group identified in the soft roll out
  • Sponsor “field trips” for potential candidates to visit AOBA member buildings and to experience “A Day in the Life of a Building Engineer”
  • Exhibit at trade shows and career fairs that are likely to attract an audience of potential engineering candidates
  • Endow scholarships to support engineers to take continuing education courses and certification classes
  • Create a mentorship program to ensure those who receive our scholarships have the best opportunity to remain in the building engineering field for the long-term

There are a number of career and technical student organizations that are based in high schools and career technology centers.  (They are similar to other student organization like Future Farmers of America, among others.)  In particular, the group SkillsUSA (formerly known as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) is likely to connect AOBA with the high school students who have the best chance of joining the ranks of building engineers.

  • AOBA should consider supporting – through financial support, leadership, and resource allocation – SkillsUSA groups at vocational schools throughout the region.

2020 and Beyond

Long Term Objectives