Five Keys to Recruiting and Retaining Young Architect Talent

The keys to retaining young architects.

Everyone wants to know the secret to attracting young talent; this is not exclusive to the architecture industry. However, there are specific offerings within architecture that can draw out the top architects in the job market (and sometimes, even those who aren't looking). We answer the question all Human Resource and Talent Acquisition teams want to know - How can you get quality employees through the door and keep them there?

By gathering research and insights from well-respected architects and HR professionals, we’ve come up with five keys to fill your talent pool and create loyal employees.

No surprise, the first step is recruiting. Getting good employees starts by getting noticed.

Health insurance and 401k programs used to be attractive perks, but now they are standard. Create offerings that make your firm distinct; what are job-seekers valuing right now? Is it flexible hours, remote options, social outings? Highlight those benefits in your job postings to lure in 'A players' and candidates who will fit in with the culture you prioritize. 

Key #1: Include a Career Roadmap in Your Job Postings

Today’s job seekers define a “good company to work for” as one that offers a career roadmap, clearly defining how employees can grow in their profession, and what the company will do to get them there. This inclusion also will draw applicants who have ambitious career goals, a characteristic we believe many employers welcome. 

“Giving your young employees a purpose will enable them to envision a future with your company. If an organization is unable to map out a road plan, a purpose of employment, it will, unfortunately, experience high turnover,” Karl Moore of Forbes Magazine states.

Key #2: Promote the Path to Licensure That You Already Provide 

Get credit for something you’re already doing. Make it immediately known in your job posting that you offer a path to licensure.  It’s a great way to grab a prospective candidate’s interest, especially one that’s only a few years out of Architecture school. A recent report from DesignIntelligence indicates 71% of firms1 pay for some or all of the expenses associated with preparing to take the ARE®. Yet surprisingly, many fail to advertise it.

Successful firms of all sizes often choose to tap into 3rd party resources like Black Spectacles, which offer turnkey solutions that help aspiring architects prep for the ARE. One example is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Michael Archer, AIA, NCARB, of SOM points out, “I was continually being asked [by our staff], ‘Can you provide something?’ And now I can say we are…[Black Spectacles] is essentially curating all of the material someone would use to get through an exam.”

While supplying your emerging talent with a licensing mentor is important (we’ll get to this later), it’s just as vital to make sure that they have the tools they need to pursue licensure on their own time. Let candidates know you set your staff up for success and support their career development as it pertains to licensure. It benefits them, and ultimately, you. 

Now that you have quality team members you have to retain them. Keeping good employees starts by keeping your promises.

Kerry Harding, President and Chief Recruiting Officer of The Talent Bank, reveals what can happen if expectations aren’t met. “One of the nation’s largest A/E firms was horrified to discover that 21 percent of their staff left within two years of their start date,” said Kerry. “Further research indicated that there were a number of systemic failures beginning with the onboarding process, including broken promises regarding compensation and benefit issues.”

How do you avoid this? The next three keys are actionable steps that you can implement right now to increase your chances of avoiding the dreaded one-to-two year turnover:

Key #3: Implement a Personalized Career Development Plan for Your New Hires Within the First 100 Days3

Management has less than two years to show their new talent how the organization can provide them a sense of purpose and a road map for growth. Otherwise, this younger generation will go searching for purpose elsewhere.

One way to combat that is to present the career roadmap like a syllabus during employee onboarding and customize it based on their position, talent level, and goals. It should literally spell out what’s expected throughout the year. To ensure a consistently engaged employee, consider establishing weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual goals. 

The value of a development program, especially if given a high degree of personalization, can’t be overstated says Lisa Henry, CEO of the Greenway Group. “A strategy to engage and retain top people is to create and communicate defined pathways for advancement,” says Henry. “Too often this important source of talent engagement is developed on an ad hoc basis.”

Key #4: Provide a Mentorship Program

Mentorship programs make firm leadership accessible to the employees and create a culture of growth and development.  Consider pairing newly licensed architects with unlicensed candidates. Make the mentorship program a regularly scheduled meeting to encourage accountability from participants and show commitment to the development of the employees.

Some firms also appoint a licensing advisor, often times a recently licensed architect, in the organization to serve as the point person for testing candidates. A licensing advisor provides a source of support and guidance for employees pursuing licensure.

According to a survey conducted by Deloitte, “This new generation of workers has high expectations for regular, consistent and meaningful feedback which, of course, requires a precious commodity: time.” 2

The good news is, an investment in time may pay big dividends in the end. The study further reveals,  “Millennials paired with a mentor were more likely to stay with their current employer compared to millennials without a mentor.”

Those intending to stay five years or more:

68%                   32%

have a mentor                                     do not have a mentor

Key #5: Keep Employees Engaged With a Personal and Positive Employment Experience

According to Gallup, 75 percent of employees leave their jobs because of factors within management’s control. “Highly talented employees who are not engaged were among those who had the highest turnover,” states Gallup.

Engagement begins with making sure an employee is a fit for their role. Employees are a company’s most valuable resource and the leading indicator of financial success, so ensuring you have the right people in the right seat on the bus is key. It is especially important to ensure top talent are in roles best suited to challenge and fulfill them. Use tools such as Culture Index to analyze the traits and culture of your existing workforce.

An effective leader helps their team get what it wants first. In turn, the team shows higher engagement and loyalty to the organization which builds and maintains a healthy, positive environment ripe for growth and success.


1DesignIntelligence, Professional Compensation”, 2018-2019.

2Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018.

3 “Who: The A method for hiring,” Jeff Smart and Randy Street. 2008.

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