And The Gap Widens

November 20, 2008 at 1:42 pm 5 comments

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of

This month Pamela Mullender inked for us a very enlightening article in regards to the ACE Mentor Program and the statistics she presented were numbing, at best:

…the industry is facing a workforce situation that is at a crisis level.  The Brookings Institute states that only 50% of all the buildings that will be here in the year 2030 have not been built yet.  Our workforce is aging. For every 5 workers who leave the industry, only one enters. The shortage in employees will reach and exceed the 1.3 million mark by the year 2012.

What’s even more staggering is that this report likely did not take into account the current economic recession we are in, which will likely create even more pressure on the industry.  What I am referring to is the increase in the number of civil engineering professionals exiting stage left and leaving the theater altogether because they got “the hook.”   With many state DOT’s dealing with crippling funding issues and with the land development and home building community leaving vacant parcels of land behind only to be occupied by unmanned bulldozers, elevating/self loading scrapers and various other earth-moving equipment, the only thing that is moving at a fast and furious pace is the escalating unemployment rate and the number of civil engineering firms experiencing multiple rounds of layoffs.  Frustrated by the limited options available and the increased competition for those scarce jobs, and left with a bad taste in their mouth, many folks decide to leave the industry altogether.

I am reminded of an engineer in Fort Worth with whom I spoke earlier this year (I’ve always wanted to use this line, I sound like a presidential candidate out on the campaign trail! ) who was let go from his firm due to the economic slowdown.  He has now started his own company manufacturing and distributing state-of-the-art lasso’s and whips (I never figured I would use “state-of-the-art” and “lasso’s and whips” in the same sentence; but I’m just a city boy from the east coast, so what do I know?!?).

Then there is another professional civil engineer in Michigan who followed his faith and became a pastor as a result of his firm letting him go.

And finally, there is the human resource professional in Pennsylvani who spent many successful years as a corporate recruiter for the home building / civil engineering industry who survived multiple RIF’s, but was the unfortunate casualty of the most recent one.  He is now considering turning his mountain biking hobby into a profitable and passionate business through the development of his own custom bike building company.

Being released from your firm can certainly be disheartening and can be quite a blow to one’s ego.  But how exciting is it, in some of the instances above, as one door closes but another one opens wide in a completely different building?   Sometimes that is just the kick in the pants one needs to follow their passion or dream.

So we have identified a few more folks who leave the industry altogether as a result of our battered economy…the gap widens.

Struggling to recruit high school students to pursue degrees and careers in civil engineering and baby boomers retiring at a record pace is creating quite an uphill battle.  The current recession further widens the gap of experienced civil engineers as many will leave the industry altogether for other pursuits.  The way I see it, it’s just another bump in the road – there has been a shortage of civil engineers as long as I’ve been recruiting in this industry, so it’s really just more of the same (“more of the same,” yet another often used phrase in the recent presidential campaign – clearly too much CNN).   But we can’t give up.  Get out to your local elementary, middle and high schools, get out to your local universities, be a mentor.  Find a way to close that gap between yourself and the civil engineers of tomorrow.


Entry filed under: Civil Engineering Issues, Civil Engineering Shortage, Employee Retention, Recruiting, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , .

Generation “O” and Civil Engineering Happy Thanksgiving….

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Robert Gately  |  March 11, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Ten years ago we tried to give high schools free access to our state-of-the-art Internet based assessment center. High schools refused the gift and only a few colleges accepted the gift. The schools had nothing like the robust assessment we offered but refuse they did. My best guess is that schools did not want their students to do anything but go to college even if failure is predictable. Since half of high school graduates go to college and half of those never finish I think we owe it to our children to expand their options. Are any of us willing to show our children that their path to career success may not pass through a college? If we are serious about helping the high school students select engineering we should offer a robust career assessment so that they can select the right career the first time so they don’t drop out of college for the wrong reasons.

  • 2. sam  |  March 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    difficult to mentor when layoffs and unemployment are your reality

  • 3. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike  |  December 30, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    revised version. So in other words, there isn’t a shortage and if there is, it’s encouraged by employers. and is mantained by the high cost of education to become a civil engineer in the United States. There’s the cost of a four year undergraduate degree from a respected institution+ graduate school + continuing education ( some of this is on the job and some of this is off the job.) I assume you’re fairly sharp but let me propose something to get your point across. How about presenting a table outlining the costs and benefits of becoming a civil engineer to eighth graders This would encourage young people to enter the feild over time, assuming there’s enough work for them to help them gain enough experience to be trusted on infrastructure work.

    There’s a reason why certain jobs are renumerative…Certain jobs are difficult to perform. Almost anything that pays well is difficult to do. Engineering involves a lot of scenarios where a mistake could cost money or lives. Of course, there’s going to be a “shortage” …A “shortage”is shorthand term in human resources for “this occupation is a fairly difficult to perform well in. Our clients are very demanding because there is alot at stake.”

  • 4. aepcentral  |  November 20, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    In response to this blog entry I did receive an email from a professional civil engineer who wrote the following:


    I like the points made and like you, I have been around this business a very long time. But, over the years many people have been leaving this industry for a number of other reasons than the economy. Such as pay, client expectation and treatment of the professional. When was the last time a client thanked a professional for the hard work, long hours in the pursuit of what many of us have a strong passion for? The typical response from our clients is, “it took you to long and you cost to much.” This kind of stress has driven many engineers, planners, LA’s early in their careers to the client side or construction with the lure of higher pay; now in the down turn they are wanting to come back. But, they now lack the technical knowledge, design experience not obtained early on and are demanding the high salary. If they are welcomed back into the fold, they are rarely successful and leave again.

  • 5. What a recession means to individuals « Continental Shelf  |  November 20, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    […] 2-5 years of experience: they’re productive and inexpensive. Civil Engineering Central has a little overview today of how the gap in qualified civil engineers (and related professionals) continues to widen at […]


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