Economic Challenge or Opportunity – What Are Architecture & Engineering Firms Experiencing?

October 12, 2023
What A&E Firms Experiencing

The global economy is going through a period of uncertainty, leading to turbulence in the labor market. As a result, many companies are struggling to backfill highly-skilled roles. But when architecture and engineering projects require long-term planning and short-term coordination of resources, what impact does this have on the industry?

To better understand these challenges, we spoke to Paul Boland, Finance Director at Optimised Environments (OPEN), a UK-based firm of landscape architects and urban designers.

2023: A Different Kind of Economic Downturn

A lot has been written about the challenges facing the global economy, but what’s the reality that architecture and engineering firms are experiencing? The consensus was that this feels different to previous periods of economic uncertainty, primarily because A&E firms are still winning new work and in some cases are busier than ever.

Paul commented: “It does feel like a different sort of downturn. We always have projects coming in – we just need to get the right resources on those projects.” But with the demand for work continuing, and the supply of suitable job candidates stalling, firms are having to find new ways to keep projects moving.

For Optimised Environments (OPEN), diversification has been key to ensuring the continued flow of business. Paul elaborated, “We're busier than ever because we work across different sectors. When there was a downturn in construction, we saw an upturn in the renewable sector – and now we're doing a lot of visual impact assessments on offshore wind farms all around the UK.”

How Can Firms Eliminate the Resourcing Bottleneck?

“Project management solutions can help with the visibility of capacity bottlenecks,” explained Paul. “And provided all our project plans are kept updated, we can see what staff are available and what skills they have. In addition, we can see where somebody would have to work 75 hours a week, which is not feasible, so we need to hire, otherwise, we can't do this work.”

As the conversation continued it was clear that while having the right project management solutions in place is essential, when a resourcing gap is identified, firms are struggling to find the expertise to fill it. The challenge of attracting and retaining talent was highlighted in the 4th Annual EMEA and APAC Deltek Clarity report, reporting that 40% of A&E firms surveyed confirmed that difficulty attracting and retaining talent is detrimentally affecting their organization.

Paul also confirmed that this is a challenge for his firm, “The biggest challenge we have is finding and hiring good people. Since the pandemic, we’ve had a really big increase in yearly turnover – and we can see that we’ve got more work coming down the pipeline – but we’ve found it hard to hire the people we need to fulfil that workload.”

The ability to move resources seamlessly between teams is key to utilizing people in the best way possible. Having a project-ERP in place makes this easier for firms as it enables project managers to have better visibility of resource availability, making it easier to allocate resources to projects or identify and fill specialism gaps accordingly.

The Right Technology is Vital, But Take Care When Deploying New Systems

Making the most of new opportunities is crucial. But it can be hard to spot where the work is, and what resource is available to deliver it if you’re relying on legacy ERP and project management systems.

When there are projects to deliver and clients to focus on, finding the time to change systems can be a significant challenge. We asked Paul if he had any advice for organizations considering a change.

He responded, “Take a step back and do a bit more testing with the product to ensure you're happy with it – even if it takes a couple of months. A successful deployment ensures that your normal processes aren't held up, and you always get your bills out at the end of the day.”

For More Insights, Watch the Full Webinar

We’ve only covered a few of the compelling insights from our conversation with Paul. Watch the full webinar on-demand to learn more about how Deltek solutions are helping Optimised Environments (OPEN) stay agile.


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