Onboarding. Progressive AEC firms are going all out to make new employees, especially recent college grads and younger employees, feel comfortable in their new jobs and new surroundings. This is particularly important in younger employees' first three months, when they're just getting their sea legs.
Onboarding gives them lots of information about the company (videos, online programs, even—heaven forbid!—written material), introductions to senior members of staff and management, informal sessions where groups of newbies can get to know each other—anything that eases the tension of getting started in the real world. Onboarding recognizes that, as the songwriter Randy Newman says, “It's a jungle out there/Disorder and confusion everywhere” for these neophytes. Smart AEC firms are finding ways to soothe their fears, to send these young staffers on the path to long and prosperous careers.
CE universities. More and more firms are going whole hog on their continuing education programs, turning them into full-scale “universities” and hiring professional educators and managers to run them. If all you're offering employees are brown-bag lunches sponsored by product manufacturers, you're way behind the learning curve. CE should be the lifeblood of career development at any progressive AEC firm.
Leveraging your buying power. AEC firms are using their purchasing power with vendors—cell phone companies, auto dealers, insurance companies, etc.—to get special deals for their employees. The only cost to the firm is some administrative time, but the benefit to employees—especially the lower-paid ones—can be a much-appreciated perk.
“Intrapreneurship.” An intrapreneur is an entrepreneur who works inside your firm; in other words, an employee with a business sense and an idea for a new service, or a new market, and who has the energy and drive to put that idea to work. Not everyone is cut out to be a true entrepreneur, someone who's willing to mortgage the house to make that dream come true. But there are probably many clever, ambitious people inside your firm who, with your support, could create a new business opportunity within your firm's structure.
Wild-and-crazy benefits. We're seeing firms going way over the top to keep their prized employees. One firm paid off a key employee's student loans. At another of our “Best Firms To Work For” everyone in the company gets to take a guest on a five-day vacation (with pay) to a choice of holiday locales—pretty much on the company's tab. Firms are “surprising” valued employees with elaborate gifts and prizes, but it's not the money that matters. It's the special touch that says, “We really value you.”