Posts filed under ‘The U.S. Economy & Civil Engineering’

Civil Engineering & Local Politics: Should You Run For Office?


By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com
  View Carol’s profile & connect with her on LinkedIn

It is that time of year again and the political landscape is heating up! A Google search shows that past/current Mayors of Omaha, NE,  City of East Orange, NJ and Norton, OH were/are civil engineers. Current Portland, OR Mayoral  candidate,  Steve Sung,  spent 32 years as a civil engineer for the city of Portland. With two candidates for California and Indiana congress, civil engineers are “taking to the streets” to lead policy formation.

Recently I asked civil engineer and past Mayor of Frederick, Maryland, Jeff Holtzinger, for his thoughts on civil engineers and local politics. Here is his comment:

“Civil Engineers are a good fit to solve the problems many cities are facing with aging infrastructure and infrastructure that has been outpaced by growth.  I also think the analytical thinking which is part of an engineering background gives engineers an advantage in problem solving.”

As our cities’ infrastructure decays, having a background in civil engineering seems to bring an added benefit to the political table. It would be interesting to see if cities with civil engineering trained Mayors have better infrastructure at the end of their term than similar cities.

What do you think?

May 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm 5 comments

Taking Your Business to the Next Level

Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Featured Guest Blogger: Babette Ten Haken
Author, Do YOU Mean Business? Technical / Non Technical Collaboration, Business Development and YOU
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Strategies and Toolkit for the Sales-Engineering Interface
Connect With Babette On Linkedin
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Sole proprietors and very small A/E firms spend their early years struggling to stabilize cash flow while prospecting to win new business, facilitate output and invoice the client. It’s an endless cycle, with the same person or a few people wearing multiple hats. And when they are busy “doing” usually the “selling” process suffers, and vice versa.

No matter how much your business has grown, and how many layers of infrastructure you’ve developed, generating and maintaining revenue stream is what it’s all about.

All businesses get “stuck” on a plateau of input, throughout, output and client mix: the formula that got them to where they are today but may not be enough to sustain them in the future. How can you build out your current successful business development platform so you remain nimble in the marketplace and poised to take your company to the next level?

1. Incorporate relevant trigger events into prospecting.

A/E firms are already tuned in to reporting sites listing news about building expansion, property development and municipal funding, to name a few areas of opportunity. These traditional areas of prospecting can be supplemented by gaining greater proficiency in Web search. Using alternative search engines, search methods, and terms can help your company identify “trigger events” or additional, relevant information about your industry and clientele. Sam Richter’s book, “Take The Cold Out of Cold Calling – Web Search Secrets” (www.samrichter.com) is an indispensable resource for sales and business development professionals seeking to differentiate their deliverables. Why prospect using the same information as your competition?

2. Help your clients build their businesses.

Your clients use the Internet to research your company, as well. Often sellers aren’t invited to sit down with prospective clients until the client creates their shortlist of potential vendors. So your business development person may enter the scene after your prospect has made decisions about the project.  How can your company differentiate itself from the other “problem-solvers” or “consultative sellers” who are out there competing in your space? Is  your website a billboard or “informational?” Do you offer White Papers or  Press Releases which are up to date? Are you using social media? Prospects may not all be technical, don’t want to read your website from cover to cover, and need to understand the relevance of unlabeled photo portfolios. Website and media content should establish an initial – and valuable – dialogue with your customers that goes beyond problem solving. Help them understand how doing business with your company makes their company more robust.

3. Look at yourself from your clients’ perspective.

Connect yourself to your company’s revenue stream. Many companies develop a great workflow infrastructure for handling won business. However, that infrastructure would be non-existent if it weren’t for the BD folks identifying these opportunities and the clients funding your output. Look at yourself from the outside looking in, as your potential clients see you, rather than from the inside looking out. While you are responsible for the A to Z of your job description, your clients have a bigger context into which they place your company. They only are interested in how your company’s A to Z impacts their company’s A to Z.  How are you, and your company, helping your clients answer the question: What’s In It For Me?

4. Treat internal colleagues like they are prospects, because they are.

Make your vertical structure more horizontal; poke holes in departmental silos. Depending on where we sit around the table, we see the same things differently. Just as vendors have Lunch and Learn sessions to inform companies about new products and services, start a Lunch and Learn group at your company. These sessions place everyone’s role into the broadest possible cross-functional context.  It literally pays to have everyone on the same page.  What insights can your business development folks provide for your project engineers on the types of issues and questions they hear from current and prospective clients? How might your business development folks benefit from listening to how their inaccessibility impedes workflow and profitability? Everyone’s communicating this company-wide A to Z, and not just the one defined by the scope of their job description, may become the competitive differentiator your company is looking for.

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

March 6, 2012 at 9:51 am Leave a comment

Civil Engineers: Laid Off? Now What?


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

Each month at Precision Executive Search we reach hundreds of civil engineering professionals across the country in our recruiting efforts.   Beyond the normal recruiting conversations that are had I try to probe the minds of my candidates about different things they are seeing.     During the month of October we wanted to find out what all those civil engineers who have been laid off are up to.  Beyond just looking for a new job, have they left the industry altogether? Or have they maybe started their own consulting business?  Based upon the information we found out through our conversations, and based upon a poll that we posted on LinkedIn asking these very questions, here is what we came to find :

•About 63% are pursuing a new job

•About 12% have left the industry and are trying something different

•About 25% have started consulting on their own

It is the 25% that I would like to discuss.

While taking a bike ride on a crisp and colorful autumn morning with our children along the Schuylkill River Trail I was talking to a friend of mine who has been in technology sales with AT&T for over 15 years;  he mentioned that he would love to try something new. His job has become stagnant, the company has really changed, there is a lot of red tape, and he is beginning to yearn for something new; the thought of trying something new is a hard pill to swallow though since he has been at it for so long now. What he said was this,

I almost wish I would get laid off so my hand would be forced to do something different.

 Regarding those 20% I mentioned above who are have started their own consulting practices- these folks may be the future leaders of the industry; they may be the ones that start hiring people and getting people back to work; and they may have just started a business that will one day break into the ENR top 100. That’s the silver lining I see in all of this…for those folks that started their own consulting practices, their hands may have been forced, and if they take that opportunity to go “all in,” that pink slip they were handed may turn out to be the best thing that has ever happened to them!  And if you think it can’t happen, check out these firms:

Aging & Growing Gracefully:

Greeley & Hansen – started with 2 partners in 1914 and now have over 300 employees in 16 offices across the United States

Louis Berger Group – started in 1953 by Dr. Louis “Doc” Berger with a sole office in Harrisburg, PA, now an international consulting firm with thousands of employees

Just Getting Started:

Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers – started in 1990 with 2 partners in Dallas, TX has since blossomed to dozens of employees in 3 offices throughout the state of TX

Borton Lawson – opened their doors in 1988 and now have 160+ employees in multiple offices throughout Pennsylvania

These firms were all conceived for different reasons and motivations.  If your reason is because you were laid off, then so be it; NOW IT IS TIME TO TAKE THE BULL BY THE HORNS!   I wish great success to all the new entrepreneurs our there who have decided to hang their own shingle, and maybe one day I will be blogging about how YOUR firm has thrived and how that may inspire others to follow in your footsteps!

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

November 17, 2011 at 9:36 am 4 comments

The End of the World is Upon Us! (Naw, not really, its just the end of the 3rd quarter)

Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Featured Guest Blogger: Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Strategies and Toolkit for the Sales-Engineering Interface
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

This is the time of year when many civil engineering and A/E consulting firms start pressuring their employees to complete outstanding projects for invoicing by year’s end. Now is the time of year when companies start pressuring their business development folks to bring in more work, win more contracts, make appointments with more people, talk to somebody, anybody who appears mildly interested in doing business with your company. It’s also the time when management simultaneously starts to threaten and cajole employees to become more productive and generate more revenue…. “or else.”  It’s the time of year when we sometimes sit with our collective heads in our hands and wonder how we ever got ourselves into all this.

OK. Time to climb off your mental ledge and get your feet firmly back into the building. While I am not about to wave a magic wand and tell you that all will be OK, there are some things you should think about doing if you haven’t already started. Regardless of whether your corporate fiscal year aligns with the calendar year. 

Some thoughts for teeing up for this fiscal year’s end and beyond….

  1. Next year’s business development campaign starts January 1 of the previous year. Clients’ and prospects’ sales years and cash flow simply do not align with your or your company’s need to generate revenue. You work for them, not the opposite. As you identify prospects and projects, put them into your “mental file folder:” is this particular project or client worth your time and effort, should they not be in a position to move forward for, say 12 months? Some of the big projects are won in this manner. You have to work differently with these types of clients and develop a strong understanding of how decisions are made within their corporate culture and infrastructure.
  2. Providing value to your clients doesn’t involve constantly jumping through their hoops. Some clients are sadistic: they treat all of their vendors in this manner, constantly changing their minds, upping the ante, and expecting not to be charged for their indecision and vanity. (You are not an advertising agency which self-selects for individuals who like living on the edge like this). Perhaps these are not the types of clients your company should be pursuing, even though they may offer the potential for landing big, juicy, high-profile projects. They may not treat you very well, while expecting you to put up with them and rack up a huge amount of non-billable hours in the process. If all of your clients are like this, how compromised and exhausted do you feel by the end of the year? Perhaps it’s time to clean out your client closet.
  3. Best may be better than optimal. While you pursue your technical quest for the optimal solution, how much is it costing your company? Unless you are an architectural or engineering genius and are the only reason your company was awarded the contract in the first place, you are part of a collaborative team effort. So communicate and determine whether the optimal solution really is optimal in the long run, before you pursue that design path. Depending on where we sit around the table, we see the same thing differently. Make sure you validate your ideas along with everyone else’s perspective. The best solution may be the most robust, in the long run.

What is your strategy for finishing up the current fiscal year? Let me know.

September 27, 2011 at 11:35 am 2 comments

Is Your Civil Engineering Firm Getting Squeezed?


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

 

Last week I decided to reach out to a client that I had not spoken to in a few months.  They are a very respectable mid-sized consulting civil engineering firm with a couple hundred employees spread over 7 or 8 offices.  I had successfully completed a search earlier this year for them, but I knew they were having some cash flow problems based upon the current economic conditions.  That said,  I thought I would check in and see if they were seeing any light at the end of the tunnel .  In checking in with the president, things were looking a little more rosier on some fronts and he was confident they would pull through this leeeeennnnnggggttttthhhhhyyyyyyy downturn with a strong team still in place and without getting knocked around the way many of his competitors have (not only is he a good engineer, but he is a better business man).  In any event, we were talking shop and he began to educate me on their most recent hurdle – getting squeezed!

Now – the company has spent many years brewing up the perfect balance of public and private clients.  On the private side, they are 25% commercial/25% industrial, and on the public side they are 25% transportation, 25% other government.  Because of their diverse client base, they have been able to fight through these difficult times with a just a few bruises; but now they are getting squeezed…by municipalities, cities, and even by their main DOT client; a client that has recognized them as one of their top, if not THE top consultant for them over the past 15 years.

I know, I know,  what do I mean by “squeezed?”

Well first of all, the DOT, as well as other government clients,  have been cancelling contracts and absorbing much of the work that they had previously awarded…and started!  So I get that; its happening in many different parts of the country, and I get the rhyme and reason behind it…I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I get it.  So that is one way they are getting squeezed.

But now the state DOT is requiring that any prime consultant who bids for a project must have, not 2 or 3…not 4 or 5…but 6+ sub-consultants tied to the contract.  Most states require civil engineering consultants to spread the wealth by teaming with DBE’s, MBE’s, etc. to help them get a piece of the action.  But for a mid-sized company who is too big to chase the small stuff, and not large enough to go after the $100M projects, how can they expect to grow or expand, or even maintain for that matter with those types of restrictions? I will tell you, knowing this organization as well as I do, they will end up making lemonade out of the lemons that have been dealt to them, but my question to you is…

Is this fair?  Is your civil engineering firm getting squeezed as well?

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

August 15, 2011 at 2:40 pm 7 comments

Conversation With A Civil Engineer


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

In a January 2011 article in CE News titled Change is Good, John P. Bachner, CEO of Bachner Communications, Inc and Executive Vice President of ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association stated that civil engineers right out of the gate have three strikes against them:

Strike One — Civil engineers are taught to be civil engineering professionals, not civil engineering businesspeople. The result: They know a lot about civil engineering and all too little about business in general and the professional service business in particular.

Strike Two — Many civil engineers are ineffective communicators. Some, it seems, sense these deficits at an early age and find comfort in math and science, where a lack of expository skills doesn’t matter all that much; numbers do the talking.

Strike Three — Many civil engineers have weak interpersonal skills, except when it comes to other civil engineers who want to talk about civil engineering. Regrettably, in the civil engineering business, most of the folks civil engineers deal with are businesspeople, administrators, “finance guys,” contractors (who may be graduate civil engineers but now live in a far different world), government officials, and so on. Those civil engineers who do not fit the stereotype — the gregarious extroverts — have a huge advantage over their less-outgoing brethren because the service business in general and the professional service business in particular are all about people.

Many of you have seen the wide array of satiric videos on YouTube published by xtranormal right? <blank stare>

In any event, I uncovered such a video that, though likely a little “over the top,” leaves no viewer scratching their head as to the point they are trying to get across:

I know, I know, those of you who are engineers and have taken part in these conversations yourself may be thinking,  ‘you’re right Matt, the message in this video is indeed quite clear, the homeowner is a knuckle head ! ‘ Often times it is the public that cannot see the forest through the trees, and that is exactly the point. As a consultant, you need to remove your engineering hat and put yourself in the shoes of the homeowner, the business owner, or the organization that is being impacted by the changes taking place. Like John mentions in Strike Three, civil engineering consultants do very well at speaking with the State Bridge Engineer regarding a cable-stay bridge that is being designed, or with the Director of Public Works regarding drainage issues on a major thoroughfare being built through the city, or with the home builder or developer in the design of a 3,000 acre master planned community. But what about homeowners whose property is being effected by a street widening? Or the citizens of a local community where a Wal-Mart Super Center is being proposed who are concerned about traffic congestion and drainage issues? The video very much makes light of this issue and for all intents and purposes is overly dramatic in order to make the point. Most civil engineers have a “knack” for what they do and the advanced math, physics, and engineering courses they study in school build upon that innate ability and passion they have for civil engineering.

So, what is the best way for a civil engineer to hone their communication skills when dealing with the public?

-> Is it the trial-by-fire method where they are just sent to public meetings and expected to learn through immersion?

-> Do they tag along with project managers and company principal’s and learn by example and mentorship?

-> Will seminars alone on this very topic make a difference?

-> Should one join Toastmasters?

-> Or does this ability just come along with maturity in the profession?

What has your experience been in relation to this topic? How have you honed your communication skills when interacting with the public? What strategies would you recommend implementing in order for a civil engineer to improve this particular skill set?

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

April 27, 2011 at 10:38 am 12 comments

Are You High On Speed…Rail?


 Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc
Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

View Matt’s profile & connect with him on LinkedIn

It’s been quite some time since I have touched on this subject, so at the risk of “beating a dead horse,” here I go again!

Have you ever known anyone who has traveled via high-speed rail?  Have you actually experienced High Speed Rail yourself?  At the very least you have recently read about it or heard about it on the news.  I have never personally experienced it myself, but I’ve read enough about it  and viewed enough videos to know that I am very excited about what the future holds.  I have also spoken to folks who have actually traveled on High Speed Rail and the reviews were glowing!

Imagine blowing up a balloon; you’ve populated the balloon with enough air that is appears to be at full capacity, but maybe you want it a little bit bigger, so you put two more breaths into it.  It’s good.  It hasn’t popped, so you put two more breaths in.  It’s now stretched pretty thin, but maybe the kids are chanting, “Bigger! Bigger! Bigger!”   You push your luck one more time and in the middle of your next breath….POP!  As I write, our highways and airspace are pretty much maxed out when it comes to capacity, and as our population grows and our economy inches its way back into growth mode the constraints will be even heavier.  In fact,  on Monday CNN reported the following from the FAA:

Air travel in the United States is expected to more than double in the next 20 years, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s annual forecast released on Tuesday.

It also predicts U.S. airlines will carry 1 billion passengers a year by 2021, a milestone that will come two years earlier than previously thought. (To put that number into perspective, about 712 million passengers flew on domestic carriers in 2010.)

 

If we fail to truly embrace High Speed Rail our infrastructure will share the same results as the balloon.

Last week Joe Biden announced a comprehensive plan that would allow for 80% of our hard-working population to have access to High Speed Rail by 2035 and has committed to $53 billion over six years.   Check out what the US High Speed Rail Association’s vision of what a national High Speed Rail system would look like:

The build out of High Speed Rail lines is a lengthy process; the environmental planning and reports, the public meetings, more reports, more meetings,  and one of the most, if not THE most sophisticated engineering and construction processes in the world requires much patience.  Of course the longer the discussion gets hung up in DC the even longer this will take.  As the United States continues to talk about High Speed Rail, the other countries on our globe continue to stay one step ahead of us.  I personally am not concerned about competing with other countries because at the end of the day I think the US rocks!    But all this talk over the years surrounding High Speed Rail, and the limited action is getting old – the advantages of High Speed Rail, as you and I both know, are enormous:

*Job creation

*Increased opportunities for employment due to easy access between cities

*A reduction in carbon emissions

*A national HSR system could reduce oil consumption by 125 bbl / year (according to Environment America)

*Reduce the stress already on existing, over-capacity infrastructure

*Ability to text message and check Facebook on phone without having to lookup for oncoming traffic 🙂

Look, the list goes on and on as to the advantages, no doubt.  A couple of years ago I wondered if people would really be able to give up their connections to their cars  on a daily basis.  The convenience they provide; the status they may show, etc.  But I think with all the studies that have been compiled, and the horrible recession that we have recently passed through, that particular mentality has passed its prime.   The development of true High Speed Rail has begun in FL and CA and significant investments have already been made in those regions.  May the rest of our country follow in their footsteps…let’s get this show on the road, or  shall I say, on the rail!

So, are you high on speed…rail?  I know I am and I would love to hear your thoughts – especially from anyone who may be against this type of innovation in our country…

Thanks for reading!

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

February 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm 32 comments

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