CAD Management Trends, Part 1

10 May, 2006 By: Robert Green

The latest labor and economic trends and how they can affect your job

In this issue of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’m kicking off a two-part series on trends in CAD management that I’ve noticed over the past half-year or so. I speak to hundreds of CAD managers each year, and as I meet them, I survey the climate in the various geographic and market segments. I want to pass along the conclusions I've drawn from these valuable exchanges.Here goes.

Gauging the Trends

I do a lot of public speaking, which gives me the opportunity to interact with hundreds of CAD managers each month. Because each CAD manager represents a larger group of CAD users at his or her respective company, I try to gauge technology and CAD trends by polling my CAD management audiences.

I will point out that the polling I do isn’t scientific, but rather an informal show of hands in a casual group environment. Although I might not be a professional pollster, I can certainly draw conclusions when I get similar responses from a variety of groups all over North America. And I must say that the conclusions I present here do seem to represent conditions in all markets nationwide.

Economic and Labor Trends

Any CAD manager position is probably most significantly affected by its economic environment. Managing a department is a lot different in lean times than when things are chugging along. To verify what sort of economic environment is out there, I’ve been asking the following questions:

  • Question 1. How many of you work for companies that are laying off people?

  • Question 2. How many of you are really busy?

  • Question 3. How many of you are busy enough that you’re looking for people?

  • Question 4. For those looking, are you having trouble finding good people?

Now I’ll report my results and draw some general conclusions as I go along.

Question 1: Prevalence of Layoffs

Of the thirty or so public speaking events I’ve done in the past year, addressing hundreds of CAD managers, I’ve received only eight affirmatives to the first question! I will admit that CAD managers who can spend several hours in a training session probably don’t represent the most troubled companies, but I can tell you that in years past -- 2002 and 2003 to be specific -- plenty of CAD managers reported dire economic scenarios at their companies.

Questions 2, 3 and 4: How Busy Are We?

Roughly two-thirds of attendees at all events replied that they are “really busy” (Question 2). At least a third of all attendees indicated they were looking for people (Question 3). When I asked those respondents if they were having trouble finding good candidates, every hand went back up.

Initial Conclusions

The conclusions I draw from my simple poll are as follows:

  • Things are Pretty Good. When only eight out of hundreds of respondents report experiencing layoffs, we’re clearly not suffering from severe economic problems.

  • Everybody Good is Working. When a full third of companies polled are seeking new employees but can’t find good candidates, it clearly means that everybody who is really good is already working and is relatively happy where they are. Otherwise, they’d jump ship.

Economics by Industry

Upon closer examination of the audience demographics I usually see that mechanical and manufacturing makes up about 20% of the attendees while AEC trades make up about 40% and civil/infrastructure accounts for the remaining 40%. Of course the blend changes a little depending on dominant industries -- for example, there's more manufacturing in Detroit, more civil and AEC in Florida -- but all in all the proportions hold fairly well.

As I poll the audiences for a bit more detail, I find that those who report being “really busy” and “looking for good people” are much less likely to be in mechanical or manufacturing industries than in civil/infrastructure industries. The AEC respondents were a mixed sampling.

So here are the conclusions that I draw for industry outlook:

  • There’s Gold in Civil! If you’re in a civil engineering or government infrastructure market, you’re in the modern-day equivalent of the gold rush! Enjoy it, because the good times are here.

  • AEC is Solid in Most Markets. If you’re in an AEC-focused company, the growth you experience is as good as the construction environment you work in. Boom areas such as the southern half of the United States are hottest, but most major metropolitan areas are experiencing residential growth that brings higher-dollar office and retail expansion with it. If your geographic area is growing, chances are your company is, too.

  • Manufacturing is More Precarious. If you’re in a mechanical or manufacturing industry, things don’t look bad, but they don’t look promising, either. Whereas roads, office buildings and homes must be built in place, no such rule applies for cars, appliances, machinery and consumer goods, which are increasingly manufactured overseas. Manufacturing is simply dealing with the uncertainties of globalization and outsourcing while civil and AEC markets haven’t had to deal with the trend -- yet.

So Where Do You Stand?

If you want to know where your company, industry and career stand relative to the CAD managers in my survey, a little introspection is in order. Here are the steps you can take to better understand your situation:

  • Step 1. Is your industry situation better, the same as or worse than the scenario I described? If your situation is much worse than the norms I’ve reported, you should be concerned.

  • Step 2. Is your company over- or underperforming others in your local market? Answering this question lets you know if you’re working for the best company in your market or if you’re in a company that’s not managed as well. I’ve always noticed that companies that perform better in up markets tend to perform better in down markets as well. Plan accordingly.

  • Step 3. Evaluate your skill set. If you’re experiencing a downturn in the mechanical market, is your skill set broad enough that you could change industries? Could you perform as a CAD manager in a civil engineering or AEC firm just as well? Consider the possibilities and take steps to broaden your industry knowledge. More knowledge always translates into more employment options.

Summing Up

I hope this look into market conditions for various industries and markets will help you decide how secure you are in your current CAD management position. At the same time, I want to caution anyone about being too complacent in strong markets. After all, enjoying the best of times while preparing oneself for the leaner times has always been the hallmark of a successful person.

In the next issue of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter I’ll wrap up my series on CAD management trends by examining software, hardware, budgeting and upper-management communication trends that I’ve observed. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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