Posts tagged ‘civil engineering blog’

Civil Engineering “Cash Cab”

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

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.

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June 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm 6 comments

The Ramifications of Ousting the Senior Engineer

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

As discussed in a previous blog, civil engineering firms are cutting senior staff in favor of hiring less experienced, less expensive technologically savvy engineers. The blog received a variety of comments. Among them was insightful feedback from Principal Civil Engineer Mike Prett, PE. With permission, his comments are reprinted here:

The deeper I get into this business (I’m about 14 years in and in my late thirties) the more I see how invaluable the senior staff is for mentoring, senior oversight, project and program management and client contact/marketing.

I agree that you need tech savvy youth to keep production moving and certain “buzz” type certifications such as LEED and PMP are important in today’s marketplace, but not at the expense of a companies senior staff. (Since I’m smack in the middle I feel like my opinion is pretty un-biased, although I realize no opinion is completely un-biased)

I feel like we are losing site of the fact that civil engineering used to be an apprenticeship-based career and is experienced based after completing the minimum competency requirements of ones bachelors and PE. Typically one starts in design, learns the ropes, gets some certifications, moves into managing small projects has some successes and some failures and so-on. Eventually when you start managing large jobs and programs, some of the fancy computer models you used to say model a water system, do a structural analysis, or run some earthwork aren’t the tools you need as a senior employee. At that point the focus is different. One should be using accounting software, analyzing schedules and building complex PMIS systems. One at that point is focusing on developing staff, keeping clients happy, understanding higher level market trends, management techniques and business development strategies, while still keeping a pretty good understanding of what your more technically based and entry level employees are doing.

I feel pretty strongly there are no short cuts. Hand a $300M CIP project or program to someone with three years of experience to run and I’m guessing it’s headed for catastrophic failure. I don’t really feel that the adage “young and tech savvy” replaces “old and worn out” in our business applies as much in our career as many others. (e.g. high-tech or pharmaceutical sales for instance). All levels in our business can add value if properly utilized.

Mike’s comment about civil engineering’s history as an apprentice based career are on point. When did that practice change? What types of mentoring programs are companies implementing to help staff earn PEs, learn project management, client development and maintenance? With benefit cuts, training programs have been put on a back burner. Now mentors find themselves tossed aside.

Those firms that view senior engineering cuts as an answer to a problem – as a short term fix, will find the long term problems to be costly. When the economy picks up many less experienced engineers who have been without a mentor will leave to join a firm that values the mentor/mentee relationship.  They will find that their lack of training will hinder their ability to progress in their career. Companies who have cut senior staff will find themselves with limited senior leadership. And, as Mike suggested, projects may run the risk of engineering failures.

Should civil engineering companies reinvent themselves in regards to staff during this difficult market? How do you think the ousting of the senior engineer will impact the industry?

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June 9, 2010 at 8:42 pm 9 comments

Civil Engineering Salary Cuts and Layoffs Continue

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

Last year an executive at a national civil engineering firm was overheard saying that staff who held the company “hostage” by demanding high salaries and outrageous benefits were now getting a cold reality. They would either accept pay and benefit cuts or would be welcome to leave. After all, they could be replaced by other talented civil engineers who would be happy to have a job. This executive thought the company had been strong armed into high salaries and comprehensive benefits in a demanding marketplace. Additionally, he decided that many employees showed no loyalty to the company during good times. Staff threatened to leave for opportunities and remained when they received counteroffers. Now, he felt that “what goes around, comes around.” Engineering businesses are known as professional services firms. They are only as good as the talent they have on their teams…and the amount of projects in the marketplace.

Salaries respond to market conditions. Clients are driving the lack of return to normal as the supply of work remains low. When engineering consultants are busy, clients are willing to pay higher fees to secure the firm they want planning, designing and constructing their projects. Likewise, when firms are looking for projects to keep their staff employed, salaries are lower as are winning bids.

Salaries are also reflected by the great purge of 55 – 65 year old staff. As politically incorrect as this is to discuss, this economy has allowed firms to let go of senior civil engineers who are technologically deficient in deference to hiring younger professionals who are more marketable. These younger staff  are LEED accredited, BIM proficient, command lower salaries which means lower bill out rates and potentially more winning bids.  It is more economical to have a senior civil engineer oversee as a QA/QC manager, while junior and mid level engineers produce the work. The job market is now flooded not only with 2009 and 2010 graduates, but also with 35-45 year experienced engineers. Although I understand the thought process behind keeping salaries low in a competitive market for project wins, my previous blog comments in “Never Underestimate the Gray Haired Engineer” holds true. (A future BLOG will discuss the ramifications of removing senior engineers to save dollars).

Firms need to remain competitive to win work. While most will agree that civil engineering salaries had finally reached the level of their high tech counterparts, the economy could not sustain them. Infrastructure needs, natural and man made disasters will force work to our marketplace. But, the economy and clients (both governmental and private) will dictate industry salaries.


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June 2, 2010 at 8:23 am 15 comments

Stalking the Recruiter

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

One corporate recruiter on Linkedin had as her status update “ careful not to stalk the corporate recruiter, but do follow-up.” Numerous discussions are taking place online scolding recruiters and employers for lack of follow-up with candidates. But, how do you as a candidate stay on the right side of the fine line that divides assertive job seeker and scary stalker?

Let’s assume you have made it through an initial screen and had a phone or in person interview. As a job seeker, how often should you phone or email in follow-up to your meeting? First, you should end your interview by asking the recruiter to explain the remainder of the hiring process.  Ask the interviewer “What happens next?” and “When should I expect to hear from you?” If they tell you what the next step is, then follow it. For example, if the recruiter tells you they have just started the process and expect to complete interviews in a couple weeks, then call them in a couple of weeks.  If they do not return your call within 24-48 hours, then send them a follow-up email. If they do not return the email within 24-48 hours, then call them again. After that, move on in your search. Does every job seeker deserve feedback and closure? Yes. Will you always receive it? No. Demanding closure by calling or emailing the recruiter every hour will not always work, nor will it help your cause- even if you are right.

These past several years have taught all of us lessons. For me, as an architecture, planning, civil engineering recruiter, I need to make sure to offer insightful feedback and closure to my candidates.  Hiring authorities and corporate recruiters who have been laid off now understand through their own job searches, that timely feedback/closure is necessary after a job interview.

Job seekers are frustrated by limited jobs, overwhelming competition and rejection. They say “Tell me I am not a fit for the job and I will understand.” Rarely has a candidate heard that they are not a fit for an opportunity without them then launching into a debate. We as recruiters, whether corporate or third party headhunter are hired to screen for the right fit. Hiring managers make that final screen and may reject you for seemingly insignificant reasons. Debating, while human nature, will not change those decisions 99% of the time.

Do your best to follow-up with the recruiter after your interviews. Even if you deserve closure and feedback on the status of your candidacy, you may not receive it. For the record, this is not right. Everyone deserves a return call.

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May 26, 2010 at 8:32 am 9 comments

Get Rid of Performance Reviews?

Guest Blogger:  Larry Courtney

Owner, Larry Courtney Consulting

Management Consulting and Business Brokerage for Professional Services Firms and other    Businesses

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about performance reviews by Samuel A. Culbert.  The article was adapted from “Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters.”*  Essentially the article makes the point that formal performance reviews, based on a recurring periodic calendar date, do not work, they are disliked by employees, and could even be detrimental from a legal perspective, especially when managers tend to provide inflated ratings.  Instead the article maintains, managers should be providing nearly daily feedback to employees on their performance.

I share the views of Mr. Culbert on formal “performance” reviews.  They just do not work.  For the vast majority of managers they are a quarterly, semi-annual or annual check off of a required task that is performed with the enthusiasm and grace  mustered for the attendance of a  public hanging.  The “performance” review is anything but.  Senior management touts that promotions, raises and bonuses (if they are still paid) are tied to performance reviews … not so and everyone knows it from the most senior to the most junior person in the firm.  Performance reviews are the “Kings new clothes.”  We all know they do not work, but we pretend they do.  Anyway, how can you neatly condense the performance of an employee down to a 2 or 3 page check sheet and a 15 minute discussion?  Well, maybe the question would better be stated, how can you realistically do it and expect to have the molding impact a performance review should have?  I have had numerous encounters where a manager wanted to fire a person; however, when the personnel file was reviewed, it was found that the same manager had rated the employee as average or above average during previous performance reviews.  When confronted with the dichotomy, the manager would say something to the effect: “I wanted to encourage them, so I gave them a good review.”  I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that.  Loosely translated what the manager is really saying is: “I don’t have the guts or I don’t have the basic interpersonal skills to be honest and forthright with the employee.”  Harsh? Not really.

The fact of the matter is, every employee deserves constant feedback, positive and negative (and both apply to every person), throughout the year and almost daily.  That feedback must be direct (not necessarily harsh … screaming and shouting is not what we are going for here), the feedback must be specific to the current task and relevant to the overall performance of the task or team.  For example, an employee who is consistently late may perform better than his/her peers; however, the tardiness is likely a distraction and point of irritation to fellow team members or employees.  Just for the record, “House” is a television show, not reality.  How can a person improve and attain his/her life and career objectives if they do not hear from others, especially their supervisors and managers, what is perceived to be the positive and negative elements about their performance.  I use the word perceived because it does not matter whether other people’s views are real or not, it is what they see and it is the responsibility of the one being perceived to change how others see them.  Life’s not always fair.  Wow, sounds like politics doesn’t it?  But I go too far.  Have you ever noticed how good leaders provide frequent feedback?  Since this tome is an expression of opinions, it is my opinion that being able to provide feedback to staff at the time it is needed and in the proper format to be accepted by the intended recipient, is an important element of leadership.  Performance feedback should help mold and shape staff into what they should be and what they want to be.

*Copyright 2010. By Samuel A. Culbert with Lawrence Rout. Published by Business Plus, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group Inc.  The article was published in the Wall Street Journal on April 19, 2010

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April 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm 5 comments

Civil Engineering “…The future is not what it used to be!”

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

“The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.”  Paul Valery

Forty years ago civil engineers were concerned with issues surrounding pollution to air, water and the environment, traffic congestion, nuclear power, energy, global warming and oil shortages. Today those issues still exist while additional issues of water shortages, deforestation,  ocean acidification, infrastructure collapses and sustainable design strategies (to name a few) confront the industry daily.

Rear Admiral Bill Rowley offered an excellent presentation at the Air University. In 1995 he wrote:

When I was growing up in the 1950’s we all knew what the 1990’s would be like. It would be a time of great prosperity. We would live in big homes in the suburbs. There would be many labor-saving conveniences for the homemaker, and robots would do the hard chores. We would commute to work in our own helicopters. The short workweek would mean lots of leisure time that families (mom, dad and the two kids) would enjoy as “quality time” together. Space travel would be common with people living on other planets. Everyone would be happy living a fulfilling life in a peaceful world. Things sure did not turn out that way. In some cases we could not have predicted the full effects of new technology. Robots are not running around the house, but instead, we have computer chips in our toasters. Our dreams in some cases would have become nightmares. Can you imagine five hundred thousand people commuting to work in Washington in their own helicopters? We were very naive about the ways of economics and human nature. The future is not what it used to be!

How does this relate to civil engineering? In the past years the civil engineering industry charged forward planning, designing, upgrading and building. The money existed for future projects. Civil engineers thought of bigger buildings, more complex bridges and interchanges, smart highways, fast rail, upgrades to existing water treatment plants, smart grids to run our power. There was/is a market in need and excitement about the advances in technology and materials to redesign our world. We have the desire, need and the ability to create.  With so many talented engineers unemployed and so many young engineers unable to find their first jobs are we missing out on the next great civil engineer of this century? When will we see the funds to get on track?

Right now, the future is not what it used to be! What do you think?

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April 14, 2010 at 8:14 am 2 comments

The National Infrastructure Bank

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and

Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

Press releases reported last month that a “broad coalition of members of Congress, experts and stakeholders called on Congress and the Obama Administration to create a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) to help generate the investment needed for infrastructure projects of regional and national importance.” Similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the NIB would be set up  as an independent entity with a board of directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Specifically, the NIB would leverage private dollars to invest in and help improve the nation’s infrastructure, internet, smart grid, broadband, and schools. “The amount of federal investment would be determined on a sliding scale based on the type of infrastructure, location, project cost, current and projected usage, non-federal revenue, promotion of economic growth and community development, reduction in congestion, environmental benefits, and land-use policies that promote smart growth.” ACEC, ASCE, AWWA, ARBTA and a multitude of other organizations and political entities endorse this important legislation.

Leaders of “Building America’s Future”  in their letter to President Obama commended him for his efforts and wrote in part:

“We write to ask for your continued leadership on the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, which will help rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, including our transportation, water and wastewater, broadband, power grid and other critical assets. As you know, the American Society of Civil Engineers identified more than $2.2 trillion in outstanding infrastructure needs. We cannot improve our infrastructure through the annual appropriations process alone.

We must renew our commitment to a National Infrastructure Bank that can help leverage public and private dollars, address regional and national needs and spur a rebirth in how our country invests in infrastructure. Building America’s Future, along with many other organizations, has educated the public about the outstanding needs throughout our country. Cities and states are struggling to find enough resources on their own.”

Critics are pontificating on the reasons why this will not work. One of their concern centers on the shortfall of the initial investment.  Their thought is that we can’t find enough money to fully fund a trillion dollar need, so why fund with a “paltry” $60 billion?  Secondly, critics are hung up on the term “bank.” Banks need to lend money and generate revenue, and therefore make investments that repay themselves. Since all infrastructure projects will not return large financial investment, then critics want the bank funding investment portfolio modified. Finally, the critics regard any federal organization as ineffective.

We cannot afford another eight years of inactivity and political battles.

These infrastructure repairs are desperately needed. This is our industry’s future and we support this initiative.

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February 9, 2010 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

“Engineering Stress”

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

In this BLOG, engineering stress does not refer to a “measure of the intensity or internal distribution of the total internal forces acting within a deformable body across imaginary surfaces.” Here I am referring to the physiological demand many of us are experiencing in response to the ever changing  engineering marketplace.

My colleagues and I were on a conference call about our recruiting assignments and the conversation went off onto a tangent.  Those minutes that we talked about something other than our projects had me laughing and I felt stress melting away. I was much more productive for the hours following that call.

This started me thinking, how can the civil engineering community pull together and destress, if only for a while? I ran an Internet search and found over 28,000 results for 2009, ASCE and golf!  Seems each ASCE chapter has some sort of annual golf charity. A great stress reliever and way to enjoy networking. Other association dinner meetings, luncheon seminars on topics other than work and corporate sponsored volunteer events provide avenues to spend time with colleagues in a non stress environment.

Social networking sites, like LinkedIn and FACEBOOK have also provided an opportunity for many of us to take a break, decompress and correspond (quickly) with our colleagues in a non-stressful environment.

Do you have other ideas or suggestions? Please tell us!

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January 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm 7 comments

World’s Tallest Building Opens -How Tall Is Too Tall?

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

The Burj Dubai – Arabic for Dubai Tower – opens today, January 4, at a supposed height of 2,717 feet. Construction began on September 21, 2004, with the exterior of the structure completed on October 1, 2009.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLP (Chicago) are listed as the architect and engineer of record. Bill Baker, the Chief Structural Engineer for the project, invented the buttressed core structural system in order to enable the tower to achieve such heights economically.  Adrian Smith, who worked with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) until 2006, was the Design Partner on the project. Turner Construction Company was selected as the construction project manager. Under UAE law, the Contractor and the Engineer of Record are jointly and severally liable for the performance of Burj Dubai. Therefore, by adoption of SOM’s design and by being appointed as Architect and Engineer of Record, Hyder Consulting is legally the Design Consultant for the tower.

The total budget for the Burj Khalifa project is about US $1.5 billion; and for the entire new “Downtown Dubai”, US $20 billion. The metal-and-glass spire is touted as a “vertical city” of luxury apartments and offices. It boasts four swimming pools, a private library and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.

According to the Burj’s developers, they are “confident in the safety of the tower, which is more than twice the height of New York’s Empire State Building’s roof.  Greg Sang, Emaar’s director of projects, said the Burj has ‘refuge floors’ at 25 to 30 story intervals that are more fire resistant and have separate air supplies in case of emergency. And its reinforced concrete structure, he said, makes it stronger than steel-frame skyscrapers.”

Engineer Baker reported that the Burj developer continued to push the design higher even after construction began, eventually putting it about 984 feet taller than its nearest competitor. This push came from Dubai’s determination to “reshape itself into a cosmopolitan urban giant packed with skyscrapers.”

How tall is too tall for a building? How complicated is too complicated for a bridge?  What do you think?

AP photo/Kamran Jebreili

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January 4, 2010 at 6:14 pm 7 comments

Bring On The New Year – Please!

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

This past year has been challenging for many in the A/E/P community and everyone associated with it. At least once a day I am asked “Where do you see the market heading in 2010? Do you see the job market picking up?” After 20+ years recruiting civil engineers, architects and planners I look into my crystal ball and my past civil engineering blogs and try to answer.  The answers usually depend on the daily changing news from my clients and various news sources.  Do I see an increase in hiring from my clients? Yes.  However, these needs are very specific. They are either strategic discipline hires or for candidates who meet their requirements exactly.  There is little to no flexibility in candidate experience.

Our community is watching President Obama and the US Congress. Workforce planning has become a guessing game for operations and human resources executives. Should firms hire for potential jobs or for projects awarded that have tentative start dates? Or, should firms implement overtime for existing staff and hold on making new hires? Tough questions. In either case, job seekers at all levels are discussing where to go next or what to do.

Many of us have minimal control over whether firms move forward in bringing on new staff.  So let’s take control over what we can manage.  If you are unhappy with your job, need a job or have let your job search go stale – take control and make or redesign a plan. If you need new clients – make a new plan. Whether you gain education, identify a recruiter to assist, join new associations for networking or apply to specific companies who have projects in your area of interest…just take action.  Our January newsletter author, Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP, CPESC, CPSWQ, poses the question “What will it take for you to make 2010 a ‘Career Year’?” This is a worthwhile read.

As 2009 comes to a close, I have one thing left to say, “Bring on the New Year – Please!”


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December 29, 2009 at 9:29 pm 2 comments

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