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Architecture firms look to hire a few good employees

Portland Business Journal

September 28th 2012

Hiring architects shouldn't be so difficult.

Since the housing bubble burst, the number of architects in Oregon has declined 28 percent to 1,412, according to the latest state data.

That means there are more than 500 architects looking for work.

If only Jeff Myhre could find them.

Myhre's Portland firm, Myhre Group, is constantly looking for new talent, but he said the recession took a huge bite out of the talent ecosystem.

Many of the architects who lost jobs during the recession were the industry's youngest workers. Now that the economy is slowly improving, many of those architects, who now have three to six years of professional experience, would rather work in other fields.

Instead of designing buildings, they're designing shoes and industrial products.

"It's been more challenging than it was before the recession," said Malyia Pladziewicz, the 37-employee firm's human resources and marketing manager. "We kind of feel like this is a lost generation"

Myhre knew of at least one young architect who would rather manage a warehouse than jump back into a profession that gets its lifeblood from the volatile real estate market.

"Most have expressed they don't want to come back into the profession," he said. "They're too afraid to go back into the water."

And while there are hundreds of architects available with more than 15 years of experience, the lack of young talent poses a big management challenge.

Myhre and other firms can hire senior architects and give them junior tasks - and pay - but that's a short-term solution that can lead to low morale and high attrition.

"They will be dissatisfied and they will move on," Myhre said.

Not to mention, firms need young talent in order to map out succession strategies.

Myhre's firm, which is known for its urban infill and mixed-use development projects, has ramped up its use of social media, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, in order to connect with more young architects.

Other architectural firms contacted for this story declined to talk about hiring practices in order to avoid revealing competitive information.

Myhre has also found a number of young architects who moved to Oregon for its vaunted quality of life.

Unfortunately, Myhre said, many young architects who move to Oregon demand salaries in line with what 15-year veterans typically make here.

Myhre declined to provide details about salaries for young architects for competitive reasons.

The average salary for an architect in Oregon is $70,720, according to the Oregon Employment Department. Clackamas County architects earn $85,025 on average. Multnomah County architects earn $70,050.

While the number of architects in Oregon is down significantly since the economic collapse, the state forecasts there will be 1,775 architects in Oregon by 2020, a 26 percent increase.

For those looking for a job, Myhre said the No. 1 skill he seeks is a positive attitude. No. 2: a work ethic. He also seeks architects who realize that it's a service profession.

"Architects are professional service providers," he said. "It's all about the service to the client or the customer"

Help Wanted

Twelve of the 33 companies on the Business Journal's recent list of top architecture firms plan to hire in coming months.