Posts tagged ‘Shortage of Civil Engineers’
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?