Somewhere along the line, the term “poaching” became interchangeable with “recruiting” in the business landscape. This mischaracterization of the recruiting process has always bothered me. Poaching, in its intended context, is “the illegal killing or capturing of wild animals.” The implications of using this term to describe recruiting are extremely problematic.

First, the US AEC labor market is dominated by the presumption of “employment at will.” While employers can terminate or change the conditions of employment at will, so too can employees choose to change the conditions of their own employment at will. This arrangement creates a free market for labor and talent that is not only legal but also fair and creates opportunities for employee and employer alike.

In this market, employees are free to choose where they work, to manage their own career path and to own the consequences of those choices. Employers are similarly free to choose whom they employ and how to compensate them. If we accept these market conditions, then it becomes clear that recruiting is not a negative activity to be avoided or villainized.  It is in fact much more akin to matchmaking: Connecting employers who have a specific need, culture and expectation with employees who have the right talents, motives and experience.

It may surprise you to learn that, despite the labor shortage of Architects and Engineers, and the so-called “war for talent,” that turnover in the AEC marketplace has not seen a dramatic increase. In fact, the AEC turnover rate is approximately 13%, depending on which source you reference.  Despite the war for talent, this figure has not significantly increased and is low compared to the 20% turnover rate of the 1990s.  How much is the perception of “poaching” inhibiting employers from finding additional talent? How many employees are stuck in a bad fit because they are not aware of a better alternative?

a man holding binoculars in a safari setting

Here are a few ways that employers can embrace recruiting in their businesses in a completely ethical way:

  1. Know who you are. Have a clear and deliberate culture. Hire, fire and promote around that culture. People who fit are much less likely to be interested in alterative employment opportunities.
  2. Tell your story. What good does it do to be the “best kept secret” employer? Are you not in the market for new talent? Properly promoting your company makes it clear who you are and what it’s like to work with you to potential candidates. Your website, social media, etc. should promote your culture, mission and values. It should be clear who you want to join your team.
  3. Be a recruiter. In many ways, AEC companies are like professional sports teams. We compete against the field every day for our success. The best teams (and the best companies) are always on the lookout for talent that fits their culture. They don’t wait for the right moment, or until they have a need. They make it a priority, they network and you should too!

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