Where are the Specifiers?

My assignment as the official CONSTRUCT blogger this month is to write about a hot topic in specifying.

With the ever increasing speed and change in projects and products every day, this blog could have been about anything.  I chose to write about something that I am not hearing much about but that I am seeing with increased frequency.
Something that really concerns me:  Where are the trained Specifiers?  Am I the only one noticing a major shortage?

Please understand that when I say “trained” specifier, I am referring to the folks that have had contract document, project delivery and specifications education.  I am talking about the folks who are well versed in the latest and greatest in the products worlds and know exactly how to incorporate that information into the Contract Documents for the best possible project outcome.  I am not talking about all the folks out there who write specs but do not have this very special and specific training.

I am aware of a number of firms, in different locations around the country, who are having a very difficult time finding a specifier with this kind of training.

Why is that?  I will tell you what I think (which anyone who knows me would expect).

Please note that there is no scientific research or analytics behind this blog.  It is merely my observations in my local area and other parts of the country as a result of my involvement and connections in CSI.

I think we dropped the ball and I think two recessions have taken a huge toll on Generation X.  Trained specifiers are a rare breed as it is.  I see tons of (untrained) people in our industry writing or editing specs and creating risk and potential conflicts in the process because they do not know what they are doing.  The hard cold truth is that it is common in our industry to discriminate against the specs.  It is common to treat them as less important than the drawings.  It is common to see only cursory attention given to this CONTRACT document.  This document that carries equal weight with the drawings in the eyes of the law.  As a result, many firms will let anyone in the office dump information into the specs.  That is a critical mistake and I have seen the fallout of this decision first hand.  More than once.

On the flip side of that coin, the firms that are smart enough to hire trained spec writers can’t find them.  Finding a trained spec writer to hire these days is like looking for Bigfoot.

Why are we so short in this valuable, absolutely necessary resource in Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC)?  Here is my take:

  • Baby Boomers are retiring at alarming rates and they are taking their expertise with them.
  • Generation X (that would be mine) took two hits in two recessions and we lost a lot of people who might have stepped into those shoes.  People who left AEC and never came back.
  • Generation X only has (overall) approximately 45 million people to fill the exiting 75 million Baby Boomer positions.  That is OVERALL.  Imagine the imbalance for specifiers.
  • Almost no disciplines outside of Architecture are getting this education which is limiting the “trained” folks even more.
  • Traditionally in Architecture, a person would transition into the Role of Spec Writer mid-career after spending a number of years designing, doing construction administration and project management.  That experience would then translate nicely into moving into a role of spec writer.  That means we would need a chunk of Generation X’ers to transition.  We don’t have them.
  • Millenials don’t have enough experience and don’t want to be pigeonholed into being a spec writer that early in their career and I don’t blame them.  After all, most of them went to school to design and administer projects.  They need that experience to be a good spec writer.  This means most of them are not interested in this role for another 10-15 years.

So where does that leave us?  That leaves us without qualified, trained spec writers to fill the shoes of the exiting Baby Boomer spec writers (which, honestly, is the majority of them).  What is the consequence?  Firms are letting anybody with a pen in their hand write specs and the conflicts on projects are increasing.

What can we do about it?  It’s not like we can close our eyes, twinkle our nose and have a boatload of trained Generation X specifiers appear out of nowhere.

We have to change the way we think about our Contract Documents and their importance.  We have to change the way we educate our staff.  We have to give the millennials the skills they need, far earlier than we have ever done before, so they can step into these empty shoes and incorporate spec education and knowledge into their design experience.


  • We NEED to get every single one of our AEC professionals, in ALL disciplines trained in Contract Documents.  No, they do not get this education in school!
  • We have to teach our young AEC professionals how to write specs or, at the very least, teach them the basics so they understand where things belong, why they belong there and how to get the information they need.
  • We have to emphasize the equal importance of the specs to the drawings.
  • We have to bring everyone to the table.
  • We have to reduce risk and conflict which typically rears its ugly head during construction.

 How do we do this?  There are many ways.

  • Join The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI).  The only organization that I have found that offers this all-inclusive education and includes all disciplines as equal members.
  • Bring Contract Document education to your staff.  This can be done in very cost effective ways.  Contact CSI and they can help you.
  • Encourage our institutes of higher education to include this education in their degree programs.  How we have gone this long without this being required is totally beyond me.
  • Attend CONSTRUCT.  I learn more in one conference from the education sessions, show floor and other professionals, than I often can learn in months or longer.
  • The fact of the matter is, due to the generational imbalance, we are being forced to change the way we work.  This is a good thing.

We have two choices here: 

  • Continue to throw bandaids on the problem and allow untrained people to write specs.  Take this road at your own (very big) risk.


  • Make Contract Document education and Specifications (finally) the priority that they should be and provide better, more coordinated projects.

Seems like the answer is simple. It’s time to do a better job.

I hope you join me at CONSTRUCT to start learning how you or your firm can change.  Official CONSRUCT Website: https://constructshow.com/

*See my blog next month about the 2nd Annual Young Professionals Day at CONSTRUCT.  An awesome event that all firms should want their YP’s to attend!


CONSTRUCT Blog Page: http://bit.ly/1rkNH3N



  1. I have circulated the web address of your article to various leaders within our company, the words in your head are unfolding as fact across North America – DIALOG as a company are trying to make a substantive change in the Canadian educators of our future design professionals… but this cause needs to be taken up by all AEC to be effective.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s