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Swing Swing Swing

President’s Letter- Malvin Whang, AIA  


aiaeb president malvin whangIt  seems  that  many  firms  have  come  back  from  the  great  recession and are in growth mode again. In fact, there seems to be a shortage of qualified people to do the work that firms are being awarded. It didn’t seem that long ago that there were more candidates than positions and many in the field had difficulty finding and holding on to steady employment. So the pendulum swings back.

When I graduated from Cal in 1992 with an undergraduate degree, the industry was in a tough rout and finding employment in the field was tough. When I graduated in 1998 with a graduate degree, the pendulum was swinging the other way already. Commissions were more bountiful and finding the right people was the challenge for many firms. Then came the “Great Recessions” of 2007 and the pendulum snapped back. Like other downturns before, this one impacted our industry severely. In fact, by many accounts, this one was the deepest and longest downturn in memory.

And today, many are noting the pendulum in full swing once again. More work, not enough people to do the work. A local practitioner recently shared an example on the stiff competition for labor and how his firm lost out in a bidding war for a candidate. When candidates go to the highest bid and construction cranes outnumber real cranes in the skyline, we know what comes next, right? Sure, we may not know exactly when it will come, but we know that the pendulum will swing back, right?

At this point, it shouldn’t be considered prognosticating to consider that the pendulum will swing back. Most would agree that it is the pattern we have all seen and experienced in the decades we have been a part of this industry. It would be great if we could somehow keep the pendulum from swinging back. If some- how we can keep the good times rolling without a hangover. But that’s unlikely to happen.

So the question is what are we going to do about it? If we know that sometime in the future we’re going to experience another downturn, what should we be doing now to prepare? It’s difficult to plan for resiliency when the immediate challenge seems to be simply keep up with growth and address today’s challenges. Good times seem to be the best time to plan for the bad times we know are around the corner.