Bechtel is one of the largest and most successful construction companies in American history.
But that doesn’t mean that its president and future CEO Brendan Bechtel can afford to rest on his laurels. Bechtel recently opened up to Fortune, participating in an in-depth feature on the company for the first time in 30 years, in which he shared his concerns about attracting the next generation of talent in an age when workers are concerned not just about compensation but their employer’s overall mission.
Bechtel expounded on these concerns during a panel at Fortune’s Brainstorm E conference on Tuesday, saying that he is worried about the coming retirement of a generation of baby boomers who have some 35 years of experience building mega projects that are “technically complex and in challenging environments.” He said the competition for recruiting engineers is fiercer today than it’s ever been, and that this is a huge concern in an age when his industry is starved for innovation.
To make his point, Bechtel referred to the following chart, published last May by McKinsey, saying that “I am haunted at night” by its implications.
“Over the last decade or so the manufacturing sector has doubled its productivity per worker, while in construction it’s remained flat,” Bechtel said. This dynamic is surely holding down profits in the construction industry and holding back the global economy overall. And if the construction industry isn’t able to compete with other attractive destinations for top engineering talent, it’s not likely that this problem will improve soon.
But Bechtel argues that his firm has one advantage over Silicon Valley in attracting top talent. “We get to work on the world’s most exciting, toughest, first-of-a-kind … projects. If you’re a really hard core engineer that likes to actually build stuff rather than just do spreadsheets or PowerPoint slides, we’re the kind of company for you.”