Posts tagged ‘Human Resources’
By Bruce Lynch, Vice President of Publishing, PSMJ Resources Inc.
For over 30 years, PSMJ Resources, Inc. has offered publications, educational programs, in-house training and management consulting services to A/E/C professionals worldwide. PSMJ Resources conducts more than 200 educational seminars and conferences annually, supported by major professional societies, including AIA and ACEC. Headquartered in Newton, MA, PSMJ Resources provides more than 150 titles in book and audio, and publishes three newsletters about A/E/C firm management. PSMJ Resources also produces the industry’s preeminent annual surveys on management salaries, financial performance, fees and pricing, and benchmarks for the design firm CEO. On the web:http://www.psmj.com/
I have spent the last few weeks interviewing the PSMJ Circle of Excellence Class of 2009. Circle of Excellence firms ranked in the top 20 percent of firms participating in PSMJ’s Financial Performance Survey that achieve the best overall performance in 13 benchmarks that measure business operations in terms of profitability, growth, cash flow, overhead control, business development, project performance, and employee satisfaction.
Virtually every executive I have spoken with from this exclusive group of design firms has told me that they have used the economic downturn to improve the overall quality of their staff. Many super-talented people with very impressive resumes – as well as star students coming out of design schools – are available and obtainable for firms that have the muscle to make it happen.
Are you one of these people that’s going to add value to a firm that is prospering in the face of tough economic times? There are a number of factors that determine the answer. In general, firms that are looking to upgrade staff try to improve their overall position in specific geographic locations, in services offered, and in markets served. To upgrade at the management level, firms are looking to hire market and/or thought leaders. In upgrading staff, firms are looking for people with direct apples-to-apples experience with a specific market or service offering or that bring valuable knowledge on the latest technology.
Here are some examples: If you are a project manager and you are a super client champion in a specific geographic area, research firms that may be interested in expanding their services in your area. Sell yourself as someone who comes to the firm with a ready-made base of new clients. If you are a K-12 program manager, look for healthy firms that may want to expand into the K-12 market – your addition to the firm gives them the opportunity to hit the ground running. What if your expertise is in a market that is currently sluggish like residential construction? Sell your value-add expertise. Do you have relationships with zoning boards or permitting authorities? These are tangible benefits that can elevate the profile of a firm overnight.
For non-management design professionals, sell your direct experience with a specific market or service. If you design health care facilities, get letters of reference from health care professionals with whom you have worked directly. Having direct experience using Building Information Modeling (BIM) software like Revit is a huge selling point as more firms work on BIM-designed projects. If you have recently graduated from design school, sell your facility in new software applications and your ability to train up your peers in these applications.
It’s also helpful to have a relationship with a professional recruiter – even if you end up finding an exciting new job on your own, these people have the experience to serve as a sounding board and alert you to opportunities you didn’t know existed.
If you are good and you have the skills and experience that other firms see as an “upgrade”, you will always be impervious to the ups and downs of the economy.
All the best,
Over the years I have often seen outstanding land development engineers desire to break into a new area of specialization under the civil engineering umbrella, yet they have found the opportunity to do so to be scarce, at best, purely because they have a background in land development. That said, after discussing this topic with numerous land development engineers across the country, I have been so inclined to blog…in defense of land development engineers.
Why do many firms who specialize in areas of water & wastewater, highway engineering, water resources, etc, turn a blind eye, when hiring, to candidates who come from a land development background? The usual response is that they do not have the desired technical experience, and would rather go without having to absorb the cost of training someone. As a recruiter, I completely understand that reasoning. There are some deeper stereotypes though that should be addressed here, so let’s do a little point/counterpoint as we evaluate some of these potential misconceptions…shall we?
- POINT: Land Development Engineers are the “General Practitioners” of the civil engineering industry. They are jacks-of-all-trades-and-masters-of-none.
- COUNTERPOINT: Land Development Engineers are indeed jacks of all trades, but they are often masters of those trades as well. When pulling together a land development project you are dealing with roadway, traffic, hydrology & hydraulics, utilities, etc. With a good 7-10 years of experience a talented engineer can fully master these concepts. This shows a high level of intelligence and a desire to learn.
- POINT: If our highways and treatment plants and bridges were designed as poorly as some of the subdivisions then we would have an enormous problem.
- COUNTERPOINT: Though you many not always like what you see, often times it is the land development engineer who is at the mercy of their client- the developer. Some developers have the goal of fitting as many lots as possible within a parcel of land for the least amount of money. This is unfortunate as many land development engineers are very creative. It’s not always about what it looks like, but rather the money – and at the mercy of the client their hands are often tied. Many firms would walk away from this type of client because they do not share the same philosophy…but many do not walk away.
- POINT: Dealing with governmental clients is much more complicated than dealing with a developer.
- COUNTERPOINT: Have you ever dealt with a developer? Enormous amounts of pressure, often times ridiculous deadlines with ridiculous expectations, and then there is the collections process. Also, land development engineers deal with MANY different personalities -not only their clients, but attorneys, municipal engineers and other governmental agencies, designers, surveyors, planners and landscape architects, builders, home buyers, angry citizens at public meetings, etc. I would tend to say, that more often than not, an experienced land development engineer could handle dealing with governmental engineers.
In the end, it may not be so much the technical skill set as it is the mentality. I believe that there are many talented land development engineers out there that could pick up pretty quickly on how to design a highway, a dam or a bridge with a little mentoring and some additional studying/training after hours. Land development engineers are used to spinning many plates at once in a fast paced environment, and are not often the analytical number crunchers that you so desire when designing a treatment plant.
So, when a sound land development engineering resume does surface, don’t be so quick to rule them out. What if they are indeed a number cruncher? Imagine a number cruncher then that has acquired great communication and team building skills as a result of being in a land development environment and what that could bring to the table for your firm’s bridge or water resources group. Would you be better off hiring this engineer and taking the time to catch him or her up to speed in a specific specialty rather than searching for the perfect candidate for two years with nothing to show?
During the current recession that we are entrenched in this may not be too much of an issue for you with the surplus of candidates “out on the street.” But during improved times and boom times, is this mentality really too “out of the box” for the civil engineering industry?
When people ask me what I do, I like to tell them that I am an “Executive Search Consultant,” but I always then clarify that with, “you know, a headhunter.” I am not a Human Resources professional, but I interact with them on a regular basis, and based upon those interactions I thought I could offer up some different suggestions that Human Resources professionals could be doing during these slow times. Now, I do have a couple of good ideas, but I have decided to hold off on those ideas for now as a friend of a friend set me straight about what many Human Resources professionals within the civil engineering industry are going through right now, and it is a topic that is worth mentioning.
The economy has slowed down, but you have not…many of you are still working 50-60 hours week, but now you are experiencing the dark side of human resources where the best skill sets you have are guts and compassion. Downsizing, layoffs, RIF, whatever you want to call it, it is not a pleasurable experience, no matter which side of the desk you may be on. I speak here not through experience, but through the account of this process from a Human Resources professional in our industry.
Preparing for layoffs is grueling:
- Compiling staff review documentation from managers;
- Working with managers in identifying who will be laid off ;
- Coaching those managers as to how to best approach the looming conversation while knowing that no coaching can really ever fully prepare someone for what it’s like to let a colleague go;
- Organizing and implementing severance programs;
- Administering COBRA;
- Conducting outplacement assistance;
- Fending off lawsuits;
- Taking on the tasks of those in your department who were recently let go;
- Much more that I am surely missing.
Maybe the most difficult duty you have right now though, is having to sit down across the desk from a mom or a dad, from a single parent, from an employee whose spouse just lost their job a week ago, from a parent with a sick child or a child who is just getting ready to go off to college, from a young woman who just put a down payment on her first home, or from a friend, and telling them that they are being laid off. ..and then dealing with roller coaster of emotions that are felt from that employee, their family, from yourself, from their supervisor and from their friends who still work there.
This is not what you signed up for, but there is no better trained or more qualified person in your organization to deal with the current situation than you:
- You have the guts to stick to the orders that you were given as opposed to packing up your desk and bailing;
- You have the compassion to empathize with these folks;
- You have the ability to absorb the verbal abuse that is unleashed on you;
- And you have the know-how and the desire to do EVERYTHING in your power to make sure that these folks are granted their severance, that they are provided everything they need to know about applying for COBRA, that they know who to call to roll over their 401K into what you hope to be a new 401K in the very near future, and to coach and to help these individuals find new employment.
Especially during these tumultuous times, the Human Resources professionals are clearly the unsung heroes whose compassion, resiliency, hard work and dedication are the rock…wait…the mountain…that everyone leans upon.
The great thing about being in America is that we are resilient. We have the ability to dig down DEEP and to be strong, to stand tall, to fight tooth and nail, and to land on two feet. It is not an easy thing to be a part of, on either side of that desk, but the smoke will eventually clear and most people will be a better person for it.
civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering industry blog :: civil engineering discussions
What can you do to improve your workplace? Some civil engineering firms are hiring, some are cutting staff and some are hanging tough with their current teams. Regardless of your status in your company, how can you be happier at work?
Say “Good Morning!”
Years ago I would get to work about 30 minutes before the rest of my team at the engineering firm where I worked. By the time others arrived, I was deep into my morning. One day a staff member came in my office and shut the door. She looked so serious. “Why are you mad at me?” she asked. I had no idea what she was talking about. It seems that I had tunnel vision. That morning, as with other mornings, I left my office to retrieve something from another office and walked right past this staff member and several others, so involved in my work I had not even noticed they were there. I had not said “Good Morning.” This told me a couple of things: work was overwhelming, too stressful and was changing my personality. Additionally, I saw how my behavior directly affected others in the office. That never happened again. A smile and a “How’s it going?” can make a difference to another person and to yourself!
Look around you. Is your desk organized? If not, would you feel calmer if it was? Yes? Then make time to clean it up! Do you have pictures that make you smile? Do you have cartoon clippings that you know will bring a laugh? Can you invest in a new lamp, some desk items that will warm up a sterile workspace? Do it, fix it and change it! Take control over your space, no matter how large or small the space is.
We all get bogged down every now and then. For some of us, we can get stuck in a negative mindset. So many times I say to myself that “negative brings negative and positive brings positive!” Everyone knows, as Randy Pausch would say, an “Eeyore” type person…doom and gloom, someone who always sees the glass half-empty. They can’t see the possibilities, only the problems. These are not the best people to have on your team. You can’t change them, but you can change how you respond to them. And, your response can pick up the team. Try it one day. You’ll find that by thinking positively, you will act positively and those around you will want to be around you!
As mentioned in our recent BLOG, remember to say “Thanks” to those who help you; be gracious to those around you. Our personal problems often seem overwhelming. Someone once told me that if you ask a group of people to write all their problems down and then tell everyone to pick which problems out of all those collected that they want….EVERYONE wants to take their own problems back! Each of your colleagues comes to work with their own issues. Some you may know, some you don’t. Don’t add to someone else’s problems. Work may be the only place they can go to feel sane!
Some people will say that work life and personal life should be separate. Let’s be realistic. We spend at a minimum, 8 hours at work, 5 days a week. Studies show that having friendships at work make us happier and more productive. You should plan on lunch out of the office with one or more people at least one time a week. Getting to know colleagues can also help workflow and teaming.
Try to get out of the office building at least once a day. If weather doesn’t permit, at least get out of your office or workspace. Clear your mind for some time during the day. You’ll be fresher and have a better perspective if you remove yourself from work stress for a short period(s) during the day. It is suggested that breaks boost retention and bring clarity.
For the past 20+ years I have been telling candidates that going to work and feeling stressed and unhappy is a waste of a perfectly good day. Sometimes you can change your behavior and the workplace follows…other times, you need to change the workplace and your happiness follows!