2023 State of Design and Make: An Interpretation

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You might have heard the phrase "Design and Make" recently. After all, Autodesk is calling Autodesk University 2023 the Design and Make conference. Earlier this year, Autodesk released the 2023 State of Design and Make  report, a global study conducted with Ipsos, a global leader in research and insights, which surveyed 2,565 industry leaders across the Architecture, Engineering, & Construction (AECO), Design & Manufacturing (D&M), and Media & Entertainment (M&E) industries worldwide. Although Autodesk produces software that benefits all these industries, the survey was less about the software offered and more about how technology affects the industry.


As I read the report, several topics reflected how the civil engineering industry was unfolding around me. I took notes of the items that resonated the most, and after digesting the information for myself, I quickly zipped an email off to several colleagues to share the report with them. The findings express changes on a larger scale than just that of the everyday designer: they reflect how our industry is changing as a whole. Here's what stood out to me.



A Changing Workforce


One of the statements I found most impactful within the Design and Make report was: 


“72% of respondents said that the workforce has evolved more in the past three years than it had in the previous 25 years.”


Go ahead and read that statement again, as I know I read it several times. Our world is rapidly evolving, especially within the technology industry. If we do not choose to change with the world, if we sit back, it will simply begin to pass us by. Several factors have significantly impacted our careers over the last three years, starting with a global pandemic.  The pandemic uprooted all our daily lives, quickly forcing us out of our familiar office settings and into our homes, disconnected from everything we once considered normal. Seemingly overnight, our IT departments were scrambling to allow the ability to safely work from home, in the same capacity we were working in the office. Remote work highlighted the ability to utilize digital tools for communication and collaboration. Coworkers could no longer gather around a table to discuss plans and models, the new workflow became virtual screen share and the implementation of model share, such as Autodesk Construction Cloud Design Collaboration and Model Coordination. As we find ourselves in a new post-pandemic normal, these new workflows are here to stay. 


The changes we have seen in the last few years are not restricted to our working environment. The way designers utilize the software is also constantly evolving.  Although still in use, two-dimensional drafting is being pushed aside by three-dimensional modeling. The tools to draft in three dimensions have been around for years, but the requirement to produce and share models is growing. Clients and contractors are requesting modeled designs at a rapidly increasing pace. In addition, the models produced by architects, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, and civil site designers must all come together cohesively. We as designers are pushing the software to do more all the time, and it continues to advance to meet our needs. If designers continue to use the software in the same manner they did in the early 2000s, they will struggle to keep up with the demands of the industry. Although the world is advancing and changing around us quickly, we must push to keep up with it and learn new software and tools. Any career that utilizes technology at the core of its product output needs to be open to change and continual learning.  Engineering is not a stagnant industry, but one that seeks to continually evolve into something better.



Recruitment and Retention 


“More than any other factor, business leaders and experts across industries identified attracting and retaining talent as a top challenge.” 


Have you heard of the Great Resignation? According to Wikipedia, the Great Resignation is an economic trend in which employees have voluntarily resigned from their jobs.  It began in early 2021 after the impacts of the pandemic began to weigh on people. Some of the most-cited reasons for leaving include wage stagnation amid the rising cost of living, limited opportunities for career advancement, inflexible remote work policies, and benefits.  Employees are changing companies in rapid succession, seeking employers willing to negotiate on their priorities. Employees have proven their ability to successfully work from home and are reluctant to relinquish their remote or hybrid work schedules. Therefore, they seek employers willing to offer remote work or hybrid schedules. The fluctuation in employees is forcing companies and corporations to reevaluate their approach to attracting and retaining talent.


Have you felt the effects of coworkers resigning? It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but when one employee decides to leave, it often creates a domino effect. When a team member leaves, that void created must be filled to continue completing and submitting product output. Therefore, the remaining team members pick up extra tasks and workload to continue the productivity required, often clocking overtime to complete the work. If the vacancy cannot be filled, the team will begin to feel the effects of burnout. Once the burnout starts to set in, the remaining team members also begin to seek employment elsewhere. It can be a vicious cycle that is tough to break when those vacancies remain open for weeks or months.


The question arises, though, where are all the candidates? I graduated college during a recession, so employment was difficult to find in my discipline. I attended career fairs where the companies told us they were there to keep a presence but weren’t hiring. It was extremely difficult, and I was desperate to find a job in my field. The times have certainly changed, though; now it seems that every time I log on to LinkedIn, my feed is filled with available job postings. Are there more positions being created to keep up with the industry demand? Or are people leaving their careers to find something more balanced?


There are so many questions around the topic of recruitment and retention. It can be interpreted in several ways and often leads to other areas of concern. For example, those applying for the positions may not have the training or skills necessary to complete the work required for the job. That leads us to the following statement from the Design and Make…



Upskilling and Training


"More than half of respondents said that their companies are hiring employees who lack the skills needed for their positions and plan to train them."


On the heels of recruitment and retention, employers are struggling to find candidates with the skills and knowledge needed to complete the required work. Digital transformation is altering the corporate terrain at impeccable speed. It is no longer a perk for an employee to have software skills: it is necessary. Clients and reviewing agencies are now aware of models and their capabilities, so everyone is ready to jump on the digital train, so to speak. They demand models with submissions, so drafting in a two-dimensional format is no longer an option. Unfortunately, finding candidates with these skills can be a challenge. Colleges and universities have yet to fully incorporate digital software into their curriculum, turning out graduates who have sometimes never even opened the software they need to design. The responsibility to educate and train new hires now falls squarely on the company hiring them.  This is a topic of intense discussion among the Autodesk Community. After all, we are software enthusiasts! Many Expert Elites, whom I have been privileged to know, will discuss in depth the gap in knowledge of software literacy in their workplaces.


The collegiate-level educational system has a deep-rooted divide between the academic pathway and the career world. The professors teaching our new generation have sometimes never entered the workforce themselves.  There are two clear paths after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, either you can progress forward for a master’s degree and then a doctorate or you can enter the corporate world. Many times, if an individual pursues a doctorate, it is so they can become a professor and teach students the subjects for which they have such passion. I admire those who pursue education to this level, but there is a disconnect where they do not gain real-life experiences in the industry. Most college graduates entering their careers are thrown into tasks they have never done before, leaving employers to teach them the vital skills and knowledge they need to complete their work. The academic curriculum is not keeping pace with the rapidly changing workforce.  Although universities have begun to include some design and analysis software, it is usually only a supplement.  The roles and duties of new graduates are becoming more hybrid, combining academic knowledge and software skills in ways that haven't existed before. The roles of drafter and engineer are no longer separate but combined as designers. We throw new college graduates into Revit, AutoCAD, or Civil 3D when they have not even been taught the fundamentals and basic skills needed, yet we expect them to be able to produce models and plan sets. How can we expect new employees to have the required skills for the job when the very education we require them to have does not teach them the vital skills they need?


Upskilling is not limited to those fresh out of college or university, though, as many employees have become comfortable with how they have always done a task. Perhaps this is the most challenging mindset to combat. People develop bad habits that are difficult to break and reluctant to change. But as I said above, design is an ever-evolving industry, and we must embrace change and move with the advancing technology.  This is challenging to achieve when those teaching were never equipped with the knowledge. It becomes a systemic problem. Companies are seeking ways to upskill their current employees and teach them the skills needed to produce high-quality work output as they have no other choice.



Digital Maturity


The State of Design and Make discusses digital maturity and the ability of companies to adapt to change. Digital maturity is defined in the report as a company's state of digital transformation. Organizations in the beginning stages of their digital transformation are considered less digitally mature. In contrast, organizations that are approaching or have achieved their goal for digital transformation are considered more digitally mature.


"Respondents from companies that are more digitally mature report that they are prepared to handle change at higher rates than those from less digitally mature companies."


Companies must overcome various obstacles in their journey to reach digital maturity. Larger companies and corporations can juggle the risk associated with incorporating new technology, as they can offset negative costs more easily than smaller firms. The costs associated with advancing digital maturity are not to be ignored. There are risks to consider when purchasing new software, hardware, or tools, too. Implementing new technology requires training, which means taking employees away from producing work in the hope that what they learn will help them become more productive and efficient. If the technology does not pay off or phase out, that risk could be considered a failure. Absorbing this failure can be a struggle for companies to endure on their path to digital maturity, scaring them away from embracing technology in the future. Yet, if the investment in technology works, it could raise profit margins.


Digital maturity also relates to a company's ability to embrace remote work. Survey respondents at more digitally mature companies reported implementing various talent-related digital solutions. Hiring from a broader geographical area can bring in new skills, and learning programs can be conducted via live-stream instruction, pre-recorded videos, or AI-capable software. 


The survey found that companies considered more digitally mature outperformed those less digitally mature in 2019, 2020, and 2021. The gap in performance between the levels of digital maturity seems to be expanding.  If this trend continues, it will become more difficult for those who are less digitally mature to close the gap.





The 2023 State of Design and Make report highlights the importance of digital transformation and the impacts that technology has on business economics, talent acquisition, and sustainability. I encourage you to read the report in its entirety, as there is a wealth of valuable information there. The topics addressed impact each and every person using Autodesk software. Our world depends on technology every day, and we must embrace change to keep moving forward.


Would you like to discuss the State of Design and Make in more depth? Drop your thoughts in the comments below and register to attend  Autodesk University 2023 - The Design & Make Conference to meet yours truly and other Autodesk Community blog authors and Autodesk Expert Elites. I'm looking forward to connecting and discussing with innovators and leaders in classes and stopping by the Expo Center to meet with companies and see the latest products and tech available. Follow the link above to register, and I’ll see you in Las Vegas!