Posts filed under ‘Civil Engineering Issues’
To kickoff its application process last year, The University of Engineering & Technology of Peru addressed a serious problem while providing a message of hope.
With a poor economy and an annual rain fall of next to nothing, many citizens lack potable water. With an atmospheric humidity of 98%, the University created a billboard that not only advertised UTEC, but also captured the humidity producing potable water accessible via spigots at the bottom of the structure. This project helps hundreds of families each month.
We take water for granted here in the United States, and such an engineering project would be merely a stunt on our turf. But the ingenuity used here is not only inspiring future engineers in Peru, but it is making an impact, and that is what I love about engineers – wherever they are in the world, they can make a tremendous impact to their communities.
As a search consultant I have the opportunity to speak with dozens of civil engineering professionals across the country on a daily basis. I speak with key executives in the C-Suite, Project Engineers, and to every level of civil engineering professional in between. After learning about their skill set and their contribution to their organization and to our nation’s infrastructure I always ask the following question:
“What would be a motivating factor that would prompt you to explore a new opportunity?”
Most of the time I get responses that include phrases like:
⇒“Larger, more challenging projects”
⇒“Smaller company” / “Larger company”
But every so often I will connect with a candidate who is working for a firm where the existing leadership has the ol’ “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it mentality.”
Over the past few months I have run into a number of firms who just cannot get out of their own way as a result of their “we’ve always done it this way” point of view.
⇒I recently heard of a firm that was poised for growth and had determined that they had to make some changes by creating a couple of new positions that would really help take them to the next level. One of these positions was Chief Operating Officer. The Board of Directors developed a detailed job description that outlined a plan moving forward and the positive impact that the addition of a COO would make. At the end of the day they decided to put the role on the back-burner for no other reason than the company ownership, all of whom have been with the company for 35+ years, felt that what they were doing has worked for the past twenty five years and there was no sense changing things up. The younger generation of engineers and future leaders of this organization are unsettled by all of this and will likely be future leaders somewhere else.
⇒Another firm that has a strong tradition of excellence within the Mid-Atlantic region is unwilling to budge on their vacation policy. Not one single person they say, from the CEO on down, receives more than three weeks of vacation. It is non-negotiable. I am all about hard work, trust me, I am typing this on a Saturday. But to remain competitive in the marketplace you need to be able to do better than three weeks vacation, especially for senior level professionals who have certainly earned four weeks anyway. This is another example of an existing ownership with an “old school” mentality that is not able to see the forest through the trees, in my opinion.
⇒These are just a few examples; there are plenty of companies out there who lag behind in technology, training, and who preach a culture and a philosophy of innovation but whose actions show otherwise.
On the other hand, I have had some first hand experience working with clients who understand the importance of change, organizational evolution, and constant re-evaluation.
⇒I recently worked with a client who saw an enormous amount of opportunity in the marketplace, but just could not break free from their 30 employee shell. The CEO of the company reached out to me and shared with me his vision to become an ENR Top 500 firm, and he was ready to invest in the right people to make that happen. He was acting as CEO, COO, Director of Business Development and Director of Engineering, and as you can imagine, could barely see one step ahead of himself. We successfully conducted a search for him and he now has in place a Director of Engineering and an Executive Vice President who has actively taken on the operations element of the firm and is contributing to business development and strategy. As a result of investing in these two key hires they are looking to double in size in the next 18 months.
⇒Another client has been in business for nearly 40 years and is in its second generation of ownership, currently working towards the third generation. The company ownership is split between five or six shareholders, but they have limited the length of time that shareholders can be shareholders. This allows for the semi-regular turnover of ownership which leads to the replenishment of fresh and innovative ideas.
⇒Another firm not only encourages its employees to think “outside-the-box,” but they actually allow for those ideas to be implemented. As traditional and conservative as civil engineers traditionally are, the willingness to try something new may seem a little risky, but their clients REALLY enjoy their willingness to present innovative approaches and concepts to many age old problems. This type of mentality and philosophy is attractive to many people and as a result helps them bring top talent in the door, and it excites the clients and keeps them coming back for more.
Change can often be scary, but it is necessary. History shows that those firms who are satisfied with the status quo, and who drown themselves in “we’ve always done it this way” mentality will eventually be left in the dust.
May you not be left in the dust!
The legalization of marijuana use in Colorado and Washington is causing an uprising within the A/E marketplace. It has been reported that firms are trying to determine policies that take in consideration federal and state laws while being mindful of employee and client safety. Speaking with operations and human resources executives on the legalized use of marijuana by employees, I am receiving one unified comment:
Marijuana use will not be tolerated-whether legal in the state the employee works or not.
Civil engineering and architect employers believe that any potential impaired judgement could lead to fatal design issues or poor decision making. I asked several executives how recreational use of the drug during personal hours is any different than staff consuming alcohol on their own time. Additionally, I asked “If an employee goes on vacation to Colorado or Washington, then smokes marijuana, returns and tests positive- what will happen?” I received a variety of responses to both these questions, but no clear answer. “Too many shades of gray. Employees need to take responsibility. If they are smoking in a legalized state on vacation, chances are they are smoking at their homes too.” Emotions are running deep on this topic.
The Department of Defense has reported that contractors who test positive for any drug use may lose their security clearance. Similarly, other federal agencies require contractors/engineering firms to drug test staff working on their projects. This would clearly direct firms providing services to those agencies. Liability insurances for many firms are expected to rise.
NORML (www.NORML.org) shares “marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America (behind only alcohol and tobacco), and has been used by nearly 100 million Americans. According to government surveys, some 25 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year, and more than 14 million do so regularly despite harsh laws against its use. Our public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it.”
Carol Metzner President, The MetznerGroup Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com View Carol’s profile & connect with her on LinkedIn civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion
Last week I posed a question on LinkedIn asking members of the Civil Engineering Central group if they felt that their firm was ahead of the curve, on the curve, or behind the curve when it comes to the software and technology that is being utilized at their firm? If you are a member of the Civil Engineering Central group on LinkedIn you can follow this link to the question and cast your vote:
Alternatively, you can vote right here on our blog:
You may find that you fall on different parts of the curve depending on the actual piece of technology or software. Accounting software, scheduling software, project management software, surveying equipment, 3D CAD software, cloud based programs and 3D printing technologies are just some of technologies and software that come to mind when running a consulting civil engineering firm.
What do you feel are the most critical pieces of software and/or technology that are essential in remaining competitive in the civil engineering profession?
In the game of poker, slow playing is the tactic of not taking aggressive action when you have a strong hand. The goal is to draw the other players at the table in to keep them playing and to keep building the pot, with the intent of beating everyone in the end after luring them in and cashing in on their chips. It’s not a bad strategy…unless you get burned in the end and someone gets “the nuts” on the river, at which point the tables have been turned, you lost a large stack of chips, and now you find yourself fighting to stay in the game.
In a recent LA Times article, “Employers wait longer to hire, waiting for perfect candidate,” it is noted that despite an improving economy, employers are slow-playing their hiring process taking an average of 23 business days to hire someone for a position. In 2009, this process was only 15 business days.
Another article from AOL Jobs, “4 Million Openings: Too Many Employers Await ‘Ideal Candidate’,” reiterates the facts from the LA Times article and goes on to state that employers fear making a bad hire, and that discrimination against the unemployed runs rampant.
In my experience working with civil engineers and civil engineering employers across the country, this concept holds true as well. The economy has crushed the confidence of so many employers over the past five years that they have become very hesitant to “pull the trigger” in hiring new employees…and rightfully so. Slow playing the hiring process when you have a candidate that rates an “8″ on a scale of 1-10 while waiting for a “10″ to come along will most often result in one of your competitors coming in and swiping your “8″ candidate and leaving you with ZERO. You’ve wasted a whole lot of time, you’ve wasted a lot of money (lost productivity, travel, etc), and you’ve still got an empty office or empty cubicle.
A couple of things to keep in mind to help shorten your time-to-hire a civil engineer:
A. If you constantly “slow play” your hiring process waiting for the perfect “10,” your business will never grow. The candidate pool is scattered with some really good, but short of perfect, candidates. Perfect “10′s” are few-and-far between, so if you sit on your hands waiting for that candidate to walk through the doors, well, you’ll likely get pins-and-needles in your hands before too long.
B. A strong manager may be able to turn that “8″ into “10″. That said, always be on the look out for mentoring or training opportunities to make your leadership even stronger.
C. Have a hiring process in place, just don’t “wing it.” Have some sort of database that tracks candidates and their skills; allow access to share outlook calendars among employees and keep them up to date so scheduling interviews is a “snap”‘; prepare for the interview with the candidate with the same vigor that the candidate has ideally prepared for you; should the interview go well, be prepared to schedule the 2nd meeting right there on the spot; have an offer letter template that you are able to personalize based upon the candidate and the role you are offering them. Those are just a few ideas.
D. Begin checking references early on in the process if possible. A game of phone tag often persists when checking references, so the earlier you start, the more quickly you can make an offer following the interview. This keeps the momentum of the process going and greatly reduces your chances of the candidate being swiped up by a competitor during the interim that normally exists between the final interview and offer stage.
E. If the candidate has met with more than one person during their interview, be prepared to gather as a group and exchange thoughts with each other within 24 hours. Put it on your schedule. Failing to officially schedule this debrief with the hopes of catching up some time in the near future when everyone just happens to be in the office at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Especially in an environment where everyone is spread so thin…be sure to put the debrief on the calendar.
F. Don’t be so quick to shove aside an unemployed candidate. Some people really do just get the “short end of the stick”…really. If their resume shows progression and stability up until the point they were laid off, you may just have yourself a diamond in the rough!
I’ve slow played in poker before with the allure of building up the stack of chips on the table and cashing in big…what a great feeling! But I can’t play that way all the time. The same holds true with hiring…every once in a while you may slow play the hiring process, buying time until that rainmaker of a candidate appears…and what a great feeling! But that does not happen all the time, so when a good or really good candidate that falls short of “perfect” is within sight, don’t be afraid to go all in!
There was a recent article posted on line from the Washington Post titled, “Why extroverts fail, introverts flounder and you probably succeed.” The article was written by Daniel H. Pink; author of “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.”
The gist of the article revolved around the mentality of successful sales people, comparing extroverts to introverts and learning which of those personality traits experienced the most sales success. Specifically noted by the author was a meta-analysis of 35 studies of 4,000 sales people. This analysis revealed limited parallels between extroversion and sales success.
“The conventional view that extroverts make the finest salespeople is so accepted that we’ve overlooked one teensy flaw: There’s almost no evidence it’s actually true”
Of course, the opposite does not hold true either, but no one expected that, right?
The article referenced recent study done by the University of Pennsylvania tha identified the fact that the most successful sales people were actually ambiverts; that is, someone with a personality falls between the stereotypical engineer with taped glasses and a pocket protector crunching calculations behind a computer screen all day and a bull in a china shop.
I have spoke to my fair share of civil engineering executives and leaders that have risen to the top of their organization, and like in most professions, many of the most successful executives are the ones that have a track record of successfully generating strong revenues and growing business. I can honestly tell you that what Pink discussed in this article generally holds true for the civil engineering profession; that is, the most successful civil engineers who have risen to the ranks of executive/principal leadership as a result of their ability to haul in business are more often than not ambiverts.
Here are a few ideas as to why ambiverts in the civil engineering profession achieve great sales success and rise to the top:
A. They don’t get too high on their wins and they don’t beat themselves down when they lose to the competition. As a leader, these traits set a great example for those beneath and keeps the ship afloat. They are for the most part enjoyable to be around and develop a sense of loyalty from their team and are well liked by their clients for their ability to be even keeled.
B. They understand their own organization, as well as clients, and have the wherewithal to understand the extrovert and introvert in everyone. They are capable of appealing to both introverts and extroverts, on both sides of the table, which often leads to win-win scenarios for everyone involved.
C. They are great listeners and are relatively humble. Outspoken professionals who pitch, pitch, pitch their services and why their company is so great without taking the time to sit back and listen to the client do not get very far. Boasting about your past successful projects proves nothing unless you are first willing to listen. So they do share successes with the clients and how they have solved problems in the past, and they are excited to, but they first listen to make sure those past examples actually relate. They are not just well-groomed sales people merely full of glossy marketing materials and power points on their ipads. They actually are capable of talking a good game because they have played on the field. They are then able to take their experiences, along with their ingenuity, and effectively communicate to clients in a manner that shows they understand.
In two words: Humbly Confident.
Based upon your experience in the civil engineering profession, would you agree or disagree that it is the ambivert that achieves the most success? Why? What other ambivert traits do you feel lead a civil engineer down the path of success?
As I was perusing the different headlines at CNN.com the other today a headline grabbed my attention:
And as I leaned back in my chair for a moment reading this piece, I began to wonder, “is it time for civil engineering firms to adjust the notches on their belt and loosen up a little?”
Take a look at what the commentary’s author, Paul La Monica noted:
“Bob Baur, chief global economist for Principal Global Investors in Des Moines, Iowa, noted that U.S. workers may be reaching the point where they are stretched too thin…at some point, U.S. corporations need to recognize that they can’t keep trying to do more with less…”
The idea of “doing more with less” is nothing new, but if I had a dime for each time I heard this phrase as a result of the recession I could retire…today! The concept is not a bad idea, but at some point you have to draw the line. Seriously. Remember the days when your Land Development or Highway group was made up of a Vice President who was mainly responsible for business development; a Department Head who assisted with business development but also managed the Project Managers and kept their finger on the pulse of all the projects and clients; Project Managers managing projects making sure they got out the door within schedule and within budget; a Project Engineer; a designer and a cad tech? As civil engineering consulting firms have been fighting to stay afloat many of them have slimmed down their business structures where a department now may be made up of a “Seller-Doer” and Project Engineer where the “Seller-Doer” is a Vice President/Department Manager/Project Manager all rolled up into one, and the Project Engineer is the Project Engineer/Designer/Cad Tech all rolled up into one. So now you have two professionals scrambling to handle the responsibilities of what was previously in the laps of six. They are doing more with less. But it may be time to loosen up the purse strings a little and invest in some new help.
We recently completed a search for a client of ours, a local consulting engineering firm, who was looking for a Project Manager for their Land Development group. The local market was improving and development was beginning to pick up. The President was still struggling with some of the uncertainty in the air and quite frankly, found it difficult to be optimistic after being in the dumps for so long. But he listened to his employees. They were becoming overwhelmed with hours, they were stretched thin, and stress was beginning to set in. The “doing more with less” mentality was beginning to take its toll, but he recognized that and made the decision to bring on another Project Manager…a decision that was welcomed by his staff, in turn easing the burden on them, resulting in a happier group of campers.
So you adjusted to the economy and have implemented the “do-more-with-less” philosophy, but as the economy begins to improve, is that same philosophy beginning to take its toll? Is it now time to re-adjust your philosophy?
If you are a business owner or executive and can relate, or an employee who has been in the trenches with this philosophy in place, please let us know and share your experience with our audience on this topic.
“Age to me means nothing. I can’t get old; I’m working. I was old when I was twenty-one and out of work. As long as you’re working, you stay young. When I’m in front of an audience, all that love and vitality sweeps over me and I forget my age.” – George Burns
So last week I authored a blog titled, “From Civil Engineer to…,” which discussed some of the different careers civil engineering professionals have transitioned into as a result of being laid off in the midst of this recession. We posted this blog on dozens of LinkedIn discussion boards that generated some lively conversation and we learned of a number of folks who are now doing something new. For those that have been able to find an opportunity again within the profession, we uncovered that many of them are making less than they were prior to being laid off. But a reoccurring theme within those discussions came from those engineers with 35+ years of experience; they are frustrated with what they see as age discrimination, and as a result are not being hired…or even considered for hire. I am not here to fight the age discrimination battle as I have no desire to, nor do I have the credentials. But I would like to use this opportunity to challenge those who are 55+ (and those who are on their way) to help them become more marketable so that any thought of age discrimination is thrown out the window. Here is a sampling of some of the comments that I extracted from the elder statesmen of the civil engineering community on the discussion boards:
“It seems like such a waste that the industry has tossed so many engineers and lost a generation of knowledge and mentoring. On a more personal level, I am frustrated, feeling that two educations are not being used and that I have lost some prime earning years. “We” have always been told get a science degree or two and it will be OK, you will always be employed and live the dream. Well, that isn’t true.”
“I haven’t gone anywhere…..I am still here, water and wastewater consulting experience of 30+ years. Trying to sell my services as a sole proprietor to prospective clients, or as an experienced client manager to professional services firms is about as rewarding as selling refrigerators to Eskimos”
“However, as is obtained nowadays employers are increasingly bypassing more experienced civil engineers for younger just out of school candidates and expecting them to do senior /experienced engineer work only because they fear they can’t pay more highly experienced engineers. However they should not fear experience;”
“I am presently working with a group of seasoned professionals that can handle just about any problem with little direction. What a difference in the caliber of design product! The client knows and appreciates that quality and I am confident they will continue to use our service. Managers should be aware of the value of that quality and the little comparative cost difference as a percentage of the entire project, it represents. “
“Companies were happy to have me a few years ago, but the work seems to have dried up now I have turned 60″
“Maybe its time to start a consultancy employing only over 60s…and show the kids we’ve still got it!”
As most of you know, I have made a career out of recruiting civil engineering professionals, and these same frustrations are often conveyed to me by those professionals in the 55+ crowd. That said, I have also been successful in placing professionals who merely based upon their graduation dates or the gray hair on their head may be considered to be “over the hill.” Here are some of the single traits that I have found that makes these “silver-haired” experts look “platinum” :
PLATINUM: They take good care of themselves physically and still find time exercise on a regular basis. When they arrive for meetings they still wear a suit…with a tie.
SILVER: They have “let themselves go” and believe that their breadth of experience is all that matters.
POINT BEING: Looks and presentation do matter, and first impressions are often, well, first impressions.
PLATINUM: They have somehow found a way to keep that “fire” burning in their belly. They continue to search for creative solutions and opportunities to differentiate themselves, and their companies, from the competition.
SILVER: They are stuck in their old ways and believe if something worked just fine a decade ago it will work fine today. They are looking to ride slowly off into the sunset.
POINT BEING: Companies and clients want innovation; they want someone who is continuously looking for ways to make things even better. They want people who enjoy taking on challenges and have the continued desire to learn and grow.
PLATINUM: They are very active in their local and national associations. That is, they seek out opportunities to present to their professional community, and when given those opportunities they are engaging and memorable. They keep up with their network and with networking…in good times and in bad.
SILVER: They limit their professional interaction to those that surround them in the office and at client meetings.
POINT BEING: You’ve heard of old adage, “location, location, location,” right? Same concept.
PLATINUM: They are flexible. That is, they are open to relocation, travel, or TDY.
SILVER: 9-5, no longer than a 30 minute commute, not willing to travel.
POINT BEING: The more flexible you are, the more opportunities exist.
PLATINUM: They have become experts in niche services (i.e. rail/transit, tunneling, process engineering, long-span bridge, ITS, green infrastructure, etc) that are subsets of a broader industry focus. They have mastered the art of Project Execution Delivery / Program Management / Operations / Business Development.
SILVER: They continue to hold Project Manager roles on bread-and-butter projects.
POINT BEING: Do you know how many Land Development Project Managers there are?
PLATINUM: They are mentors; and memorable and effective ones at that.
SILVER: Focuses purely on themselves.
POINT BEING: People you mentor will remember you when opportunities arise. Business owners will hire you to mentor their younger staff so they can more on driving sales. Companies will hire you to fill the gap between the existing aging leadership and the next generation of leaders. Catch my drift?
PLATINUM: They have found / earned their way into larger and higher profile projects which increase their industry exposure…and they have experienced success.
SILVER: They are constantly content and show no desire to grow or be challenged.
POINT BEING: Are you a tortoise running a marathon, or are you a rabbit looking for the next sprinting race? And if you are the tortoise in the marathon, are you willing to turn on the after-burners from time-to-time?
It’s no secret that there are plenty of companies out there who shy away from hiring those professionals with “too much experience (wink, wink).” And for or many companies, there are valid reasons why they are not willing to hire someone with 35+ years of experience. No matter what the perception or reality may or may not be on this topic, my desire is to share some of my insight that comes from nearly 16 years of experience in recruiting AEC professionals. With all the “platinum” and “silver” in this blog, my hope is that I have provided you with a little nugget of GOLD that may make a difference for you or someone you know.
And in line with the quote at the beginning of this blog, may vitality sweep over YOU and may potential employers forget about YOUR age.
Comments and lively discussion always welcome.
With the recent recession beginning to fade further in the rear view mirror, many civil engineering firms are struggling to find available talent. As the economy improves and we are beginning to conduct searches in regions or specialty areas (i.e. land development) that we have distanced ourself from over the past few years, we have found that many of the civil engineering professionals we used to network with on a regular basis have disappeared into thin air. Not really. But they have left the civil engineering consulting industry in order to make ends meet after being laid off. Rather than scouring the country for available opportunities only to compete with dozens of other candidates who share their same story, they chose to do something different. So without further ado, here are some great examples that we have unearthed from our national network of civil engineering professionals…
…they have gone from civil engineer to:
- Middle School Science Teacher
- Youth Minister
- Leather Apparel / Accessory Manufacturer and Retailer
- Real Estate Agent
- Home Remodeling Contractor / Business Owner
- Microbrewery Owner
- Equipment Manufacturing Sales Rep
- Civil Engineering Software Sales Rep
- Corporate Real Estate Development
Most, if not all of these people were FORCED out of the industry and had no other options. But as a result, they uncovered new skills and a new passion for something completely different that provides food for the family, and for some, food for the soul!
Maybe they had one foot out the door anyway regarding
their level of interest in their civil engineering career, but none-the-less,
these people made lemonade out of lemons.
Please share with our readership any career transitions that you or your civil engineering peers have made as a result of being laid off. Was it worth it? Or was that transition just a stop gap until such a time that a suitable opportunity presents itself back in civil engineering? Please let us know, we would love to hear from you!