Steve Jobs and Civil Engineering – That’s Right. I Went There.

October 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm 7 comments

Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc
Managing Partner,
View Matt’s profile & connect with him on LinkedIn

No need to get into a lengthy diatribe as to who Steve Jobs is and all that he has accomplished.  You all know who he  is and I would have carpel tunnel syndrome by the end of this entry if I tried to explain all things Steve Jobs.  Two questions for you though about Steve Jobs:

  • Do you know where he started?
  • Do you know where he ended?

Back to that in a moment.  Over the years I have conducted numerous C-Level or Senior Vice President/National Business Line Leader searches for consulting engineering firms where I have been tasked to seek and find a key leader for national or global practices that are made up of hundreds or thousands of civil engineering and architectural professionals.  Deep down amongst the two or three page detailed job description there is bullet point indicating that a Professional Engineering or Architecture license is required.  Not preferred. Not recommended. Required.

Different companies have different roles, different titles, and different philosophies on hiring.  The philosophy that a senior executive must have a professional registration sometimes leaves me scratching my head.  I am talking about executive leaders who develop winning strategies, who develop revolving 5-year business plans, who glad hand, who often accept public speaking invitations, who are responsible for leading the pursuit of projects, or who are responsible for meeting financial goals of the company.  My question is this: “Is a professional registration really necessary at this level?”

I know many unlicensed professionals in the architecture and engineering community who are operationally responsible for hundreds or thousands of employees and who know how to effectively turn a profit.  I also know many unlicensed professionals in the architecture and engineering industries who are responsible for driving millions and millions of dollars worth of revenue through the door.  I also know many companies who have needs for people like these but who turn a blind eye to these candidates because they do not have a couple of initials following their last name.   Is this an old school mentality?  Is this a company worried about perception more than actual results?

This takes me back to Steve Jobs; No degree…college drop out…yet an innovative pioneer who is a good listener and who was capable of delivering what people want- even delivering what people want before they know they want it.  Not that companies should make a habit of hiring college drop-outs, not by any stretch of the imagination;  but, denying your company the opportunity to hire, or at the very least consider a change agent or someone who can help guide the ship to its selected destination because they do not have a license, seems shortsighted.

If someone can provide innovative concepts to clients, productive and profitable business models, has strong connections and a track record of success;  if they are a good listener, and if  through the collaborative efforts of the skilled and licensed management team beneath them they could even deliver a concept to a client that they may have not thought of otherwise; if they are able to drive top line revenues and help your firm climb to heights that you may not otherwise reach,  then is a professional license at that level even relevant?

What is your philosophy? Have you hired your firm’s Steve Jobs? Or maybe have you seen the Steve Jobs of your industry join the competition only because you shuffled his credentials aside because he or she was not licensed?

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Entry filed under: Career Development, Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Companies, Civil Engineering Jobs, Interviewing, Marketing, Professional Registration, The Workplace.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • […] Steve Jobs and Civil Engineering – That’s Right; I Went There ( […]

  • 2. Michael Luthi  |  October 18, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    if you are working internationally in multiple markets then you cannot maintain licenses for all those markets. Does it mean you are not capable?
    Also some countries do not require licenses, does it mean engineers from those countries are no good?

  • 3. aepcentral  |  October 14, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Lots of responses from LinkedIn where we posted the blog entry – here is another one:

    ” Yes and yes. There are plenty of unlicensed professionals who are qualified for the executive level leadership roles that exist today, but emphasis on the value of the license has taken a surge particularly in the last decade for good reason.

    Licensing ensures standards, promotes continuing education, and boosts the profession as a whole. Ten, twenty, thirty years ago, degree-holding engineers and architects that pursued a license were typically in the minority because the value of the license wasn’t prevalent like it is today.

    The increased emphasis and prevalence is certainly a move in the right direction, but some of the best engineers I have worked with were not licensed. The emphasis needs to continue so that eventually the requirement for a license is a no-brainer, but companies of today should not short change themselves in passing over a great candidate simply because they do not hold a license.”

  • 4. aepcentral  |  October 14, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Another comment from a follower on LinkedIn who read and posted their thoughts on our LInkedIn Group:

    “Matt, from what I’ve seen and read, those best suited for the technical tasks — the ‘best engineers’ — often do not have the innate skill sets to be good people managers. Organizations will try to promote their great engineers into management, even though many are ill prepared for the task by personality temperment and (lack of) training. Similarly, some of the most promising managers are not the ‘best’ engineers. As long as the organizational hierarchy perpetuates a straight ladder upward that starts at the design room and directly progresses through project management, people management, and business development to arrive at organizational leadership in the C-suite, the employees who are exceptions to the rule have slippery footing at best in order to land where they may bring the best benefit to their firms. It isn’t the best use of our human resources, and it marginalizes some truly exceptional individuals. “

  • 5. aepcentral  |  October 14, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Here is another comment on our posting from one of our LinkedIn Groups:

    ” ” That said, there are some firms who choose not to consider un-licensed folks at that level merely because they do not have a license. They certainly don’t need one at that level, but do some companies steer away from these folks because they feel it creates a credibility issue? ”

    It’s not about credibility issue. Some A/E firms don’t even require their execs to be an engineer, let alone having a professional registration.

    If you’re recruiting non-engineers for executive-level positions, they don’t need to have a professional registration. None of our c-level are engineers.

    On the other hand, recruiting engineering professionals to become an exec is a different story. Most of the time they work their way up to become an exec, and hence most get registration along the way. So in a way working one’s way up from an entry level engineering professional to sr level to an exec level without ever having a professional registration is a bit questionable. “

  • 6. aepcentral  |  October 14, 2011 at 8:43 am

    That’s right – thanks Michael!

    Also, here is a comment from one of our followers on our LinkedIn Group:

    “Engineering professionals are shortchanging themselves, reducing the odds of growth into executive roles, if they don’t pursue their license. For engineering firms, there is no recognized upward path around this. One must be considered technically proficient (i.e., licensed) and then prove themselves capable of managing others before even being considered for executive level or business development assignments. That isn’t to say a rare individual may be talented and do extremely well without licensure, and licensure certainly isn’t required for those big picture, visionary tasks. However, the industry and business organization models are conservative and it is much easier to apply a ‘rule’ about promotion and skill sets if it fits the perceived majority of situations. “

  • 7. Michael  |  October 14, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Lack of a degree didn’t seem to adversely affect Mr. Gates, either !


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