For many architecture practice owners, finding and retaining top talent can be one of the most difficult aspects of leading a business.
The problem doesn’t dissipate once you have found the right candidate, either.
If the work dries up, as often happens in architectural practices, a new challenge arises. Do you let your staff go because it is simply too expensive to keep them on your payroll? Or, do you try to make it work because you’ve invested so much time training them and believe they might be useful to you in the future?
Over in Western Australia, a registered architect has sought out to create a solution to help architecture practitioners out of this conundrum.
Co-architecture, created by Kevin Mitchem and Wade Smith, is a professional network that connects architecture practice owners with candidates. As Kevin describes it, Co-architecture is a “mashup of LinkedIn and Seek, but dedicated specifically to architecture and design industries.”
In our latest Huddle, we sat down with Kevin to learn more about the platform and how it works.
Prior to founding co-architecture, Kevin had worked as an architect for nearly a decade. In that decade, he was made redundant, was forced to relocate states twice for a job and had worked in four different practices, he said.
That constant upheaval and lack of a stability pushed him and his co-founder to ask themselves: “Why is it so bad?”
Why was it so hard to maintain a stable and sustainable career in this industry?
During their market research phase, the co-founders discovered that 98 percent of architects are either sole practitioners or work in small to mid-sized practices, said Kevin.
“That kind of blew our mind. We put it all together and quickly understood why it was so hard,” he said. “It was because everyone was so small and so disaggregated, and thus were constantly competing for small parts. That has a direct impact on job opportunities.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of co-architecture is its under-development “secondment feature.” This feature, which is already happening organically on the platform, allows practice owners to effectively share their resources, i.e., employees.
“The idea is that you can reach out to another practice and offer your staff,” said Kevin. That means that you wouldn’t have to let go of your staff in the case of a downturn. Rather, you could simply allow them to work for another practice who needs extra help at that particular point in time.
However, there are some issues that need to be ironed out before this feature is fully live, said Kevin. For example, there are concerns about how a firm’s intellectual property and design intelligence might be protected should an employee work for different practices.
One way that architecture practice owners could protect themselves against such sort of foul play could be through the network’s peer review system, said Kevin. Much like an Airbnb or Yelp, candidates who share private information can be given a poor rating that would impact their future hire-ability. Still, the startup is currently in the process of building features that are “more sophisticated” and could ease such concerns.
The employee’s market
In the age of the Great Resignation, it is undoubtedly an employee’s market. Desperate for talent, firms are now offering higher salaries with greater benefits all in the hopes of luring architects to their practice.
While this might be a dream scenario for candidates, Kevin warned that there could be downturn waiting for us around the corner.
“It is a little worrying to see people offering salaries of $100,000 or higher, thinking that in another 12 months, project pipelines could be completely gone and we’ll be back in a scenario where people are being made redundant because they can’t afford their salaries,” said Kevin.
In the meantime, Kevin suggests that practice owners who are searching for talent find other ways to recruit. Rather than offering big paychecks or a ping-pong table at your studio, think about your firm’s values, he said.
“If practices are concerned about retaining talent, then maybe they should be thinking about values, or what we call, “values influences,” he said. “How can you find someone in your practice that is a real champion for your practice’s values and the collective values of the staff that work there? Those people will be lightning rods for attracting the right people.”
If you’re looking to hire someone and would like to advertise your open position, you can sign up for co-architecture for free here.
If you’re looking for more tips, strategies and advice on how you can lead a profitable and impactful architecture practice, check out our Programs and Courses. Alternatively, you can contact us directly by filling out this form, and we’ll find a time to chat about your needs and how ArchiBiz can help.