Posts filed under ‘Civil Engineering Trivia’
By Kerry Harding
President and Chief Recruiting Officer, The Talent Bank, Inc.
What if I were to stand on the street in front of The White House and ask 100 people passing by two questions: “Can you name a famous engineer?” and “Can you name a famous basketball player.” Somebody did this once. On the engineer side, 3 people offered John Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. He was the top vote getter. Of those same 100 people, 87 said, without any hesitation whatsoever, to the second question, “Michael Jordan.” I pondered a third question: Why aren’t there more superstars in engineering firms?
Unlike professional sports, no system exists to identify and track top design talent. For 2011, a simple Internet search revealed that UCLA’s Gerrit Cole was Major League Baseball’s top draft pick; Auburn’s Cam Newton was the National Football League’s top draft pick; and Duke’s Kyrie Irving the top pick for the National Basketball Association. Stats like these are available back to the early 1950s. Yet, who were the top ten engineering firm graduates in the country last year? Five years ago? Ten years ago? Where did they start their careers? Where are they now? Compiling this information would take hundreds of hours— even if privacy laws even made it possible. What does the professional sports world have that the engineering professions could implement to institutionalize this type of knowledge? Several things:
The Scout. Each year, roughly 85,000+ engineering graduates enter the profession. In their respective schools, professors deem a handful of people as “the rising stars.” Some are easily identifiable, winning student chapter awards or national student design competitions, making the Dean’s List, or winning top academic and leadership honors at graduation. No regional or national repository exists for those involved in engineering firm recruiting to tap into to annually review emerging young talent’s credentials. In pro sports, this is the Scout’s function who travels from city to city, watching people in action, talking with their coaches, etc. The opportunity exists to begin building a database of “ones to watch.”
The Draft. In the sports world, a formal process exists for bringing top talent together with top firms in an objective, organized way. The benefit is that everyone involved knows all the candidates at the outset to compare credentials. Yet, no such process exists to link engineering firms with the national engineering talent pool that emerges at graduation. True, some schools have established job bank programs to allow their own students and alumni to interact, yet most fall woefully short of the potential that exists or simply serve the immediate region.
The Rookie. Once a student makes the transformation from campus to company, their progress gets lost in the academic system. Professional society awards are one way that that young talented people, early in their career, remain visible. However, since a qualifying criteria is to be “under 40” that provides a window of nearly two decades of career growth and makes the assumption that all new grads have equal interests, skills and opportunities.
The Farm Team. Successful sports franchises’ system ensures a consistent supply of talent. Young talent is identified and sent to smaller, regional entities to ensure they acquire the skills necessary to compete in the upper echelons. For some, playing at this level will be as far as they progress, while others will clearly emerge as ready for the majors. In engineering firms, this manifests itself in several ways—the market sector studio, the discipline team or the branch office. Providing young professionals the chance to rotate through a variety of roles and project types will reveal where the person’s true passion and best fit lies.
Sports teams know that their people need to identify where they function best and then refine the specific skills to excel at those. Too often, in design firms, a person best suited to for actual project work gets promoted into project management or principal-level positions. Being a good center doesn’t mean someone will be a good quarterback. An ace engineer may not excel at managing people or projects.
The Major Leagues. Within any given sport, the top performers deliver results in spite of who wins their respective national championships. This is equally true with engineering firms. While there are large firms whose fortunes ebb and flow like the tide, there are others who experience steady growth and consistently maintain adequate backlog and profitability along with brand integrity. These firms are always recruiting strategic hires not just for the next year but for the next generation–that elusive but essential combination of talent and cultural fit.
The Dream Team. Through time and planning, any design firm can assemble or acquire a Dream Team for a particular market sector—where all of the positions are covered by people considered among the best in their profession in areas such as aviation, transit facilities, stadiums, toll roads and rail. Sometimes, dream teams aren’t built—they’re acquired. In other cases, through assembling a cadre of talented generalists, a firm assembles its own dream team for a specific geographic area. If you want to begin building your own Dream Team, there are several key things to begin doing right now.
Offer career opportunities, not jobs. Most jobs advertised on the major jobboards describe skills, duties and responsibilities–not exciting career challenges. This precludes the best from even applying. Define top performance for every job in a clear statement of what the person must do to be successful. By clarifying performance expectations you’ll attract top candidates and more accurately assess their competency. Use this profile to manage, reward and motivate your new team.
Figure out who you need to hire over the six months and the next five years. The hiring process needs to be forward-looking, providing time to find the best candidates available, and not lower your standards to succumb to business pressures to get someone “yesterday.”
Go after those who are looking for a better job, not those who need a job. Everyone knows that the best people are usually not found on job boards, which represented only about 10% of all hires last year. You’ll find better candidates through a formalized employee-referral program and an established relationship with a knowledgeable recruiter whose job it is to know who in the marketplace is discretely looking for that next rung on the ladder. Use a multipronged method to upgrade your sourcing programs to target the best.
Formalize a complete recruiting process, including practical training. Research shows that for most line managers, the typical interview is only 7% more accurate than flipping a coin. If everyone who plays a role in the hiring process from the receptionist to the president haven’t been thoroughly trained, you’ll wind up with similar results. Top candidates view a new job as a strategic decision based on growth opportunities and chemistry. They need more information than just compensation, benefits and job duties to make a decision—they want an inspiring interview.
Tie compensation to value to the firm, not salary structures. In the sports world, when pro teams want to attract super-athletes, their managers don’t say “Well, everybody else with X-year’s experience makes Y thousand dollars a year, so, as much as we like you, that’s as high as we go! They know that unique talent merits unique compensation. Most engineering firm managers still approach recruiting like they’re haggling with a car dealer…”How low will they go?” Recruiters across the country routinely share their frustration that deals frequently unravel over a salary difference of $10,000-$15,000—especially where there’s a dramatic difference in the cost of living. In one case, a firm lost the top candidate to a competitor because it refused to cover the candidate’s airfare for the interview. In another, the deal breaker was simply an extra week’s vacation.
In hot markets where the number of credible individual experts in the country can be counted on two hands, the difference between closing and blowing the deal can be the fee for just one small job. Design firms need to identify the top talent in their target or geographic markets, and then craft creative compensation programs that effectively combine salary with incentives. A prominent firm recently lost a nationally-renown market sector leader because it implemented firm-wide financial austerity measures with no raises, no bonuses and a 10% across-the-board pay cut for all principals, even though the studio of the person in question had posted record earnings for the period in question. Why? Another firm, already in the top five but vying for the top slot, saw an opportunity and seized it. Design firm success hinges on the synergy of individual talent with market opportunities. Attracting superstars and supporting them with a strong bench in sales, technology and operations will ensure that, when it comes to winning work, your firm will always get to the playoffs and may even win the championship.
About the Author: A former executive with the nation’s top A/E firms, accomplished author and agent of design firm change, Kerry Harding serves as President and Chief Recruiting Officer of The Talent Bank, Inc. an executive recruiting and management consulting firm founded in 1984, specializing exclusively in strategic recruiting of design professionals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rich Bedell
General Counsel, Greenhorne & O’Mara, Inc. and
Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Maryland University College, Graduate School of Management & Technology
Who is Montgomery Scott? How about Geordie La Forge, B’Elanna Tores, or Trip Tucker? Every engineer I know secretly wishes he or she could have their job. Getting close requires a lot of hard work, professional experience, dedication, and training. Formal training includes formal engineering programs that require specific engineering classes to successfully complete whichever engineering program chosen. Those programs also include various electives to help round out that young potential promising engineer. English literature, history of the western world, romantic arts, and even pottery making are known electives. Some of the more progressive schools offer Contracting 101. When I was in school, oh so long ago, I heard classmates complain that all they wanted to do was design and/or operate. The mechanics of contracting could easily be left to others. Oh how wrong they were.
By now you realize that I was talking about Star Trek, STNG, Voyager, and Enterprise. Each of them have had dealings with a race called the Ferengi. Ferengi have a mercantile obsession with profit and trade. Think about that. Without profit and trade our current society would fall into the dark ages and there would be no need for engineering or the sciences. Ferengi have what are commonly known as the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. There are hundreds of rules. Do a Google search for yourself and you will find that many of them actually apply.
For example consider the following rules:
#138 – Law makes everyone equal, but justice goes to the highest bidder. We all know that is true.
I couldn’t resist showing that one first but consider the top ten (10).
1) Once you have their money, never give it back.*
2) You can’t cheat an honest customer, but it never hurts to try.
3) Never buy anything for more than is absolutely necessary.*
4) Sex and profit are the two things that never last long enough.
5) If you can’t break a contract, bend it.
6) Never let family stand in the way of opportunity.*
7) Always keep your ears open.*
8) Keep count of your change.
9) Instinct plus opportunity equals profit.*
10) A dead customer can’t buy as much as a live one. Never kill a customer unless the profit you make off his death is larger than the profit you can make off his life.
Yes very funny, but consider Contracting 101 in relation to the above Top 10:
1. It is so important and difficult to collect from the client that you don’t want to do anything foolish that would require you to have to give it back. Think indemnification clauses in a contract where you indemnify for anything arising out of the performance of your services. Insurance doesn’t cover that. Insurance covers for the negligent performance of services.
2. How often have you found that the engineer is being cheated? If the engineer allows himself or herself to be cheated it is their own fault. Think about the fiduciary obligations owed.
3. Think competitive bidding and the contracting procedures associated with that.
4. Well that goes without saying.
5. How often have you found terms in a contract that allow termination for convenience?
6. How often have you been told to use a particular subconsultant only to find out that the subconsultant has some sort of relationship with the client?
By now I hope you get the idea…Some of the morals are questionable, but how true an application to Contracting 101!
One of my favorite television viewing pleasures is Discovery Channel’s CASH CAB. Host Ben Bailey asks passengers in a New York taxi to answer trivia questions on their way to their destination. Those passengers have a chance to win money for each correct answer. Sorry, we won’t be offering cash rewards to our readers BUT do take a break and try to answer some civil engineering trivia questions! If interested, we can do future civil engineering trivia contests. Send me questions and answers that you think can “stump the chumps!” BIG shout out to Jason Vaughn PE who was great to contribute a majority of questions and answers for our test. Let us know how you do! Ready, set, go…..
1. What famous engineer has the most U.S. patents and how many?
2. Who is “the father of Soil Mechanics?”
3. Name one of the two engineers elected President?
4. When water flows through a full pipe, the water is fastest in what part of the pipe? The top, middle, bottom, or all the same?
5. What caused the Tacoman Narrows suspension bridge collapse in 1940?
6. Why do golf balls have dimples?
7. What is the longest natural bridge?
8. Why don’t railways use suspension bridges?
9. What was the world’s worst accidental oil spill?
10. What is the longest street in the world?
1. Thomas Edison – 1,093
2. Karl Terzaghi
3. Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter
4. Middle. The edge of a pipe has friction. The friction slows down the water in contact with it. Therefore, the middle is the fastest.
5. The wind.
6. The dimples reduce drag and allow the ball to travel farther than a smooth ball.
7. Rainbow Bridge, tucked away among the rugged, isolated canyons at the base of Navajo Mountain, Utah, USA. It is a natural wonder. From its base to the top of the arch, it reaches 88,4 m (290 ft) – nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty – and spans 83,8 m (275 ft) across the river. The top of the arch is 12,8 m (42 ft) thick and 10 m (33 ft) wide.
8. Suspension bridges are too flexible.
9. Supertankers Atlantic Empress and Aegean Captain collided off Trinidad and Tobago on July 19 79:: 90 million gallons of oil ended up in the Caribbean.
10. Toronto’s Yonge Street is listed as 1,178 miles (1,896 km) in length — roughly the distance from San Diego, California, to Seattle, Washington.