...but in an increasingly competitive global market owners may be forced to import new techniques that promise to make the construction process more efficient,” he says.

Pink Slips

While owners are having no trouble getting qualified people to build their projects now, there is a concern about what will happen when the market turns around. A recent survey by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA), McLean, Va., and management consultant FMI Inc., Raleigh, N.C., shows recession’s impact on owners.

The 11th annual FMI/CMAA Owners Survey found that more than 50% of owners surveyed dramatically cut their facilities and construction staff in the past two years. About 18% had cut more than 20% of their staffs. Further, the survey found that nearly 60% of owners said they have no immediate plans to rehire.

The results of the study were surprising to many. “We in the industry had assumed that owners were not as hard-hit as contractors or design firms by the pressures of the recession,” says Mark Bridgers, an FMI principal who oversaw the study. But the survey shows owner staffs have felt the sting of recession as much as those in design and construction.

These cutbacks have had a dramatic impact on owners’ construction programs. “There has been a cutback in capital spending among many owners, but in many cases, it is a scale-back in the scope of projects, rather than a reduction in the number,” says Bridgers. He says that scaling back on project size does not lessen the amount of work for the owner’s staff.

The consequences of these staffing reductions may be widespread. “Up to a point, owners’ furloughs do present industry firms an opportunity to benefit from outsourcing,” says Bruce D’Agostino, CEO of CMAA. However, he cautions that cutbacks in owners’ staffing may have a major negative impact on the industry as a whole. “Owners are losing not just employees but long-term institutional knowledge,” D’Agostino says, adding staff reductions could result in clients that are unable to communicate their needs effectively to construction firms.

The public sector has been hit almost as hard as the private sector. Only the energy and federal sectors have avoided staff cuts. Bridgers says public agencies were more likely to cut staff, but they tended to be on a smaller scale than in the private sector.

While many owners are reluctant to rehire now, 42% of those surveyed say they plan to do some hiring in 2012. D’Agostino notes that 15% of owners surveyed say their recruitment plans are to hire away staff from contractors, designers and CM firms.