CAD Management in a New Economy, Part 1

26 May, 2010 By: Robert Green

CAD managers report that the economic recession has wrought changes in their companies — and their jobs.

I've had the pleasure of traveling a good deal this year, and speaking to many groups of CAD managers throughout the United States. I've taken the opportunity to ask these CAD managers lots of questions about their experiences during the economic recession, and how their jobs have been changing as a result.

In the next two editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll be reporting my findings and providing advice for how you can best deal with the changes in the CAD manager's role. Here goes.

Has the Situation Changed?

The first set of questions I've asked CAD management groups are as follows:

  • Has the way you work — or the workload in your company — changed since the recession began?
  • If so, how? 
  • What are the resulting impacts on your CAD management duties?
  • Do you see the economy improving, staying the same, or getting worse as far as your company is concerned?

My goal in asking these questions was simply to evaluate how many CAD managers are operating in a changed environment as a result of the recession, and to gauge how that change has manifested itself. I purposely left the questions open-ended so as to encourage unbiased responses; I didn't want to influence the participants with any of my opinions at that stage of the conversation.

What follows is the feedback I've received.

Gauging the Change

Every single person I talked to has seen his or her business or agency alter the way it works since the global recession began. I've spoken to 10 groups of CAD managers (total attendance of 172) between February and early May this year, and every single participant reported a downward shift in business and resulting operational changes in their company or department. The fact that not one of these CAD managers has escaped unscathed surprised me.

My expectation was that private-industry workers would report massive workplace change, but government agencies would have been somewhat insulated from the trend. To my surprise, local government agency employees have been hit hard as well. I heard many stories of staff layoffs, furlough days, and hourly rate reductions from CAD managers in civil engineering, architecture, manufacturing, building/construction, aerospace, and telecommunication and government agencies alike.

It appears that the root cause of the change has been twofold:

  • For private-sector workers, the continuing construction and manufacturing slumps have caused companies to make major staffing cuts as project loads have decreased. Even companies working on federally funded "economic stimulus" projects report that overall business is down.
  • For local and state government workers, the declining revenue from building permits, combined with shrinking property tax funds, has spurred staff cuts to balance budgets.

I would like to have had input from federal government agencies as well, but for whatever reason (slashed training budgets?) these agencies weren't in attendance at any of my sessions.

Feeling the Impact

Given that things have changed, what are the impacts inside the company or agency the CAD manager operates in? How have those changes filtered down to the CAD manager? Here's what I heard:

Tight staffing. Staff sizes are now set to meet production engineering/design and CAD demands with no extra capacity. Staffs are lean, mean, and under constant evaluation in case the economic situation dictates further changes. There's simply no extra CAD capacity — overhead has been cut to the bone.

Production rules. Given that there's no extra CAD capacity, the CAD manager has to take up the slack in times of high production demand. I now see almost all CAD managers assigned some production CAD duties, whereas that number was roughly 50% in my 2006 CAD manager survey. Today's CAD manager simply must be production-capable.

No time for optimizing. With smaller staffs and more production demands, it is very difficult for CAD managers to perform optimization-based tasks like user training, system customization, standards coordination, or IT interaction. Simply put, the "management" part of CAD management is far less important now than the "CAD" part.

Economic Trends

When I asked CAD managers for their thoughts on how the economy is doing, I knew the poll results wouldn't be scientific. What I wanted to achieve was a "gut feeling" based on how their companies are faring. Here's what I heard:

Getting worse. Among all ten sessions, I only counted five hands indicating the economy was getting worse.

Staying the same. Approximately 60% felt that the economic impact of the recession has stabilized in the past few months; while things aren't getting better, they aren't getting worse either. This was by far the largest group of responses.

Getting a little better. Approximately 30% felt that their companies had hit bottom and recovered with some new work, so that the economic outlook seemed a bit better.

Getting much better.
A total of three people voted this way. I asked these attendees privately about why things looked so good for their companies; each had received a major contract that had a huge positive impact.

The single most interesting thing in these results was talking to the roughly one-third whose companies were seeing some improvement in the economy, and discovering that none of those companies are hiring! Further discussion revealed that companies simply won't hire unless they absolutely have to, and even then they will put it off as long as possible.

Summing Up

As Sir Francis Bacon famously said, "Knowledge is power." I hope that my look into the changing CAD management position has given you the knowledge that other CAD managers are experiencing the same problems that you are. In the next installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll provide recommendations on how to apply your newfound market knowledge to make your position more secure and less frustrating, by providing the CAD management services your company needs in lean times. Until then.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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