A new company is connecting new graduates looking for employment opportunities in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) with employers in the industry.
NextGen Professional was started by the sister and brother team of Agnes Watkinson and Robert Chlebowski. Watkinson started AMC Services, a recruitment firm for the construction industry, a few years ago and decided to branch out and start NextGen Professional. Watkinson’s husband Mike Watkinson, an engineer, recently decided to get on board to focus on the marketing and leadership program.
Currently in the Canadian construction industry, Mike explained, there is an aging population of skilled workers and leadership, combined with a lack of individuals choosing a career in construction. The team’s mission is to bridge that gap by raising social awareness of the issue (education); connecting recent graduates with employment opportunities (recruitment); and providing leadership training through in-class seminars and one-on-one coaching (retention). To do so, NextGen partners with colleges, universities and connects graduates with their clients, which are AEC firms.
“Something that we’re seeing is this middle bubble, in between individuals retiring and the new generation, who are not being given the time, the effort or the experience to really take over,” explained Agnes. “We need to change the mindset from ‘someone else is going to fix this’ to ‘you need to fix this’ by starting to engage and teach and mentor the younger generation to take over because there is nobody right now who can.”
NextGen is targeting smaller to midsize firms because they often don’t have the same resources as the larger companies to provide training and mentorship.
“We want them to start embracing post-secondary institutions, working with students, getting them involved…really get them engaged and keep them and that way we can grow this foundation of entry level individuals who could potentially become your next great project manager or site super,” Agnes said, adding many of their clients are general contractors.
“The trouble is the principals (of small- and medium-sized firms) have their heads down doing the job in order to win the next job and keep everybody employed,” Mike added.
The program also aims to assist with the impending labour shortage in the construction industry.
What we’re seeing at the junior level is there really is no coaching, no mentorship, no real career succession planning,
— Agnes Watkinson
“Being a recruiter in the construction space, everyone is looking for the same person,” said Agnes. “I see the same resumes coming across my desk over and over. These people are jumping in salary at such a rate that it is now inflating the construction market. You hear about clients who are pulling out of bids because they can’t afford to pay for the PM (project manager) who is asking for $50,000 more than he or she is currently making. That’s a reality. There is nobody in that junior or intermediate space who they believe have the qualifications to take over that job. It’s like you’re asking for a glass of beautifully cold water in the Sahara Desert.”
For the initiative to be successful, it needs to be a collaborative effort from like-minded groups, AEC firms, from post-secondary institutions and from the students themselves, Mike pointed out.
As part of the contract with NextGen Professional, each new hire will participate in a year-long leadership program that consists of in-class seminars and one-on-one coaching. There will be six in classroom seminars a year which are put on by two individuals that occupy the leadership coaching space. New hires will also be given access to a professional as their individual coach for the year.
“What we’re seeing at the junior level is there really is no coaching, no mentorship, no real career succession planning and then they leave thinking they’ll find it somewhere else and it happens over and over,” Agnes said. “There isn’t enough room for helping these entry level individuals find their way through their first year of employment which is extremely difficult.”
It also helps retention, she added.
“A lot of the juniors do tend to jump because of deflation and lack of engagement with the company,” she said. “We are hoping this will solidify their relationship with the client.”
To reach students, NextGen Professional visits post-secondary institutions. They participate in career fairs and host talks inside the classroom for students in relevant programs. Online they have a page on their website that describes what they do and they are also on social media.
“It’s really important to educate them on what to expect when they leave school,” said Agnes. “We find a lot of them don’t have the information…It’s not part of the curriculum. We don’t want them to be disengaged when they come out of school, we want a realistic expectation for them of what they’re going to have available to them.”
Students are encouraged to sign up online. They will be pre-screened before receiving a face-to-face meeting.
“Once they give us their information they get a phone call from a real person from our recruitment team on the AMC side who screens them,” said Agnes. “We basically want to find out as much as we can about the student…We don’t accept everybody. We have a quality level we have to consider when we are dealing with paying clients.”
Follow Angela Gismondi on Twitter @DCN_Angela.