Posts tagged ‘Solutions’

In Defense of the Land Development Engineer

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

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 outWhat 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?

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July 8, 2009 at 3:37 pm 30 comments

Questions Of The Month – Final Tallies Revealed

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

Each month at CivilEngineeringCentral.com we have a Question of the Month.  This question is posted on our home page and is included in each issue of  “The LinkedIngineer” as well as our monthly e-newsletter which is sent out to nearly 10,000 members of the civil engineering community (If you would like to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter please click HERE…sorry, couldn’t pass up that free plug).   It’s been a while since we have posted the results, so in light of that (plus the fact that I have struggled to come up with anything else),  check out the results below.   If you see any surprising results in there or feel the urge to comment about any of the topics please feel free to do so.

MAY 2009

DID YOU SEE AN INCREASE IN PROJECTS IN YOUR COMPANY DURING THE FIRST QUARTER OF 2009?

83.1%     No
16.9%     Yes

Just yesterday I was speaking with  a colleague of mine who commented on a report he had just watched on MSNBC. They were discussing the question “where did all the stimulus go?”   Most of it of course is going to construction; all those projects that we have come to love and know as…shovel ready. What seemed like a lot of money initially, when spread out over the entire United States, seems to be spread pretty thin.

APRIL 2009

HAS YOUR FIRM CUT IT’S BENEFITS PACKAGE AS A RESULT OF THE CURRENT ECONOMIC CLIMATE?

67.6%     Yes
32.4%     No

It’s expensive out there folks.  Our health insurance has gone up 50% over the past four or five years…everyone is feeling the pinch here.

MARCH 2009

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT SEARCHING FOR A JOB?

42.9%     Networking
25.0%     Not Knowing Where To Start
17.9%     Updating My Resume
14.3%     Nailing The Interview

The way I see it, assuming you are a talented engineer, if you are able to effectively network throughout the course of your career, that, in-and-of-itself, takes care of the the remaining three obstacles.  You see, if you are a great networker, you easily know where to start, and because you have networked so well and know so many people very well, there is no need to update your resume because they have seen you in action and your stellar reputation precedes you.  Your noticeable performance within your industry over the course of your career has coincidentally been an ongoing interview.  All that being said, a hand shake over a cocktail, beer, sparkling water or other beverage of your choice should be all that is needed to nail down your next job.  A little tongue in cheek maybe, but there is some validity to my theory.

FEBRUARY 2009

HOW OFTEN DO YOU VOLUNTEER IN YOUR COMMUNITY?

50.0%     8 or more times per year
23.1%      Not at all
15.4%     1-3 times per year
11.5%     4-7 times per year

One half of our respondents give back to the community 8 or more time per year…that is AWESOME!

JANUARY 2009

HAVE YOU EVER MISLED OR EMBELLISHED EXPERIENCES ON YOUR RESUME?

77.8%     No
22.2%     Yes

One should always be truthful on their resume, that goes without saying.  But sometimes resumes can be misleading as different titles mean different things to different companies and different people.

DECEMBER 2008

WHAT CONCEPT WILL MAKE THE GREATEST IMPACT ON SOLVING OUR ENERGY CRISIS?

40.0%     Nuclear Energy
23.3%     Wind Energy
20.0%     Solar Energy
13.3%     Bio-Fuels
3.3%       U.S. Oil Digging
0.0%      Coal

I think our economy will need to stabilize and re-establish itself for a while before we begin to see any of these technologies really begin to flourish.

NOVEMBER 2008

DOES YOUR MANAGER ALLOW FOR YOU TO WORK A  4/40 OR 9/80 WORK WEEK?

65.5%     No
34.5%     Yes

I think the civil engineering industry,  prior to “The Great Recession,”  had actually come accustomed to the 6/60 work week – that is Monday-Saturday/60 hours week!

OCTOBER 2008

WHICH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WILL YOU VOTE FOR ON NOVEMBER 4th?

49.4%     Barack O’Bama
42.9%     John McCain
6.0%       Undecided
1.2%        Other
0.6%       Ralph Nader

Not bad, not bad.  The final results in total votes for the Presidential election in November was Obama 53% / McCain 46%. Our participants were nearly dead on here…sorry I can’t say the same for the Question of the Month which we ran in August 2008; see below!

SEPTEMBER 2008

WITH HIGH GAS PRICES, HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR COMMUTING HABITS BY OPTING FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION?

73.5%     No
26.5%     Yes

This poll was posted at the time when gas prices were averaging $3.74/gallon.  We have come a long way over the years in mass transit, but you know what?  People love their cars and it would take a lot more  than higher gas prices for them to drop their keys and take to mass transit.

AUGUST 2008

WHEN DO YOU BELIEVE THE LAND DEVELOPMENT MARKET WILL BEGIN TO PICK UP?

30.6%     2nd Quarter of 2009
26.5%     2010 or Beyond
14.3%     3rd Quarter 2009
12.2%     4th Quarter 2008
10.2%     4th Quarter 2009
6.1%        1st Quarter 2009

As of today, just about 50% of our survey responders are wrong and there are another 26.5% who will likely end up on the wrong side of the fence as well by the end of this year.  Seems to be an ol’ case of “if I only knew then what I know now.”

I would like to thank you all for answering our Questions of the Month and look forward to your continued participation.

Got Comments? Got Questions? Got Insight? Got Speculation?  Got Inside Information?  Let us know, we would love to hear from you on any of the subjects of our recent polls.


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June 4, 2009 at 12:09 pm 1 comment

Lessons Learned From An Economy Turned

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

So one of the headlines from CNN.com on Wednesday read “Economists: Recession To End In 2009.”  Reading this article got me to thinking that, now that we are beginning to see a little light at the end of the tunnel, what are some of the lessons that the civil engineering community has learned at the hands of this recession?  

If you jump on the band wagon, be sure you pack a lot of padding for when the wheels fall off.

How GREAT was the land development boom in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and the greater Washington, DC area (just to name a few)?  Engineering firms were actually turning away work from developers (or, working 90 hour work weeks because they couldn’t say “no.”); engineers of all levels were relocating to these “hot spots”; Professional Engineers were starting their own firms because they saw the dollar $ign$ that were there to be made;  every engineer I spoke with was chomping at the bit to work for a home builder or developer, and vying for those positions was like trying to get into Walmart as the doors open on Black Friday.  You don’t have to look very far to see what has happened in the wake of this recession.  Home builders and developers are selling off land (if they can) and running on skeleton crews at best.  As a result, many of the civil engineers who were living the high life during these boom years have since been acquainted with acronym “RIF.”   Knowing where the market was in those regions during the real estate boom, check out some of the headlines from the Las Vegas Review Journal for 2009:  http://www.lvrj.com/hottopics/housing.html.  Did you know that average price for a single family home in Phoenix for 2009 is $103,953.00 vs. $283,472.00 in 2008 (Source:  Realty Times – Phoenix, AZ).  To see the effect in the outlying suburbs of Washington, DC , take a look at the Housing Market Outlook For The Washington, DC Region as prepared by Robert Charles Lesser & Company.  My hope is that everyone who reaped the rewards of these robust land development markets was able to tuck away some of those lucrative bonuses and put them to use to help cushion their fall.  

Diversify. Diversify. Diversify.

If you have stuck around long enough to read through the paragraph above, you know where I’m about to go here.  How many firms do you know put all of their eggs in the land development basket?  I guess you can’t blame them, right? That’s where all the business was and it did not take long to be completely bogged down with lucrative land development work.  To come up for air and even consider anything else was nearly impossible.  With all that money floating around, that would have been the best time to hire some key players in water/wastewater, municipal infrastructure, transportation and other areas of specialization in order to begin establishing a presence outside of the land development arena.  All good things come to an end, so when they did, by diversifying you would have had built established relationships and developed a nice track record within the municipal sector that would have helped ease the pain of the real estate bust.  Unfortunately, many firms failed to diversify and by the time they realized they needed to pursue work in other areas, it was too late…in fact, pursuing work with public and governmental agencies these days is like trying to get into Walmart as the doors open on Black Friday (yup, I used that analogy again).  Everyone is lined up looking for a piece of the action, but only a few will be fortunate enough to walk away with that nice plasma television.

Beware of  “Best Firms”.  Are they only the “Best Firms” during the best of times?

Don’t get me wrong, there are many firms out there that deserve all the awards they receive for ethics, management style, benefits, employee training, employee incentive programs, employee retention, state-of-the-art technology, exciting projects, work environment, etc.  In fact, there are many firms that would likely win those types of awards but just choose not to submit themselves for consideration.  The best firms to work for, as I see it, are the ones that have strong business plans with strong leadership and that have had a fully executable game plan in place for when the market turned as it did.  They produced high quality work at a reasonable price with a diverse client base.  They stocked away some cash and had good working relationships with their bankers.  They are coming out of this downturn with minimal damage. They way I see it, the firms that rise out of this downturn and recession with the least amount of collateral damage to its employees, they are the “Best Firms” to work for.  

The best marketing is producing a quality product.  True, but lose the crutch.

It has always been said that the best form of marketing is developing a quality product, which in turn will produce great returns as a result of repeat business.  How true this is, not only for civil engineering, but for many industries. But avoid using this as a crutch.  What happens when your client’s well runs dry?  Be prepared to put on your sales and marketing cap and start pounding the pavement.  To better prepare yourself, make sure you take some classes and seminars on this topic of marketing and business development in the civil engineering industry; or even better, find a mentor within your company.  And then once you learn some of the strategies, don’t let them become dust collectors – make sure you put them to practice.  Keep in mind, just because the repeat business keeps repeating itself does not mean you should not be “out there” in the mean time marketing your services to other prospective clients.  This way, when your backlog runs low you will have a head start on the process, and your cold calls will now be warm calls.

Keep your resume polished up as often as your shoes.

Treat your resume as you would your finest pair of shoes.  Imagine a pair of dress shoes that have not been polished up in a long time.  They look fine when you finally get them done, but if you had kept them shined and polished regularly throughout the years they would remain in top notch condition.  Top notch condition is the way you should also keep your resume.  Every time you get a promotion or receive an award, update your resume.  Everytime you speak at a conference or write a paper, update your resume.  Everytime you complete a project, update your resume.  This way, should you roll into work one day after 20 years of loyal service only to be greeted with a cup of coffee and a pink slip, you will not be scrambling.  

There are certainly many other lessons to be learned as we scratch and claw our way back into multi-year backlogs, and these are just a few.  What other lessons have you learned that you can share with our readers?


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May 27, 2009 at 5:28 pm 10 comments

Why the Shortage of Civil Engineers?????

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

I was recently interviewed for an upcoming addition of Water & Wastewater Digest Magazine regarding the topic of the shortage of civil engineering professionals in the current market. Take a look at the discussion:

Q1. Recent industry surveys show that there is a lack of qualified employees to fill positions in areas of drinking water, wastewater, storm water collection, drainage and solid waste. What is your opinion about these findings? Where do you see the biggest shortage of qualified personnel and why?
These areas of specialty are not unlike any other areas of specialization which fall under the civil engineering umbrella (highways, bridges, aviation, geotechnical, etc). There are a number of reasons for this shortage. First of all, the industry needs better PR and better marketing – to children, believe it or not. The civil engineering community at large, the leading civil engineering associations like ASCE, AWWA and AWRA, and the working professionals need to find a way to team up with schools and student organizations that will allow them to expose the students to the exciting projects and opportunities that are available in the profession, and really draw light upon how critical civil engineers are to our society. This idea of course is more long term. Secondly, though there has been some adjustment recently, the pay for civil engineering professionals needs a boost. Compared to all other engineering fields, civil engineers are about at the bottom of the totem pole. Finally, in specific regards to drainage, storm water, hydrology & hydraulics and some of the other micro-specialties in the industry, these are areas that sometimes become too niche oriented. Someone may come out of school and be assigned strictly to drainage and storm water management; great experience, but they become pigeon holed as they realize they are only being exposed to the storm water or drainage tasks assigned to larger scale highway or land development projects. By having such a narrow specialization they are deemed an “expert” and do not get the exposure to managing entire projects. This being said, they choose to shift into more traditional roles or departments, like transportation or land development, where they feel they can better advance their career.


The biggest shortage that I see out there today is for talented engineers with a strong understanding of the water/wastewater industry and new technologies like Enhanced Nutrient Removal and bio-solids. There is also a very strong upward trend in the Federal Programs segment and finding experienced engineers with experience in water resources, drainage, flood control and flood plain mapping. Whether contracts target studies, planning or engineering solutions to environmental or man-made disasters, candidates will be needed to oversee this work. Additionally, security upgrades to existing infrastructure will continue. Even though there are pockets of private development “slow-down,” environmental projects, federal programs and infrastructure improvements are running at top speed.

Q2. What resources do you use to locate qualified employees for this industry segment?
The best resource any company has for finding qualified employees is their own staff. Offer aggressive recruiting incentives to your employees for referring any potential candidates that ultimately get hired. These may be professionals that your employees went to school with, who they met at a conference, or that they know and have seen in action at public meetings or local association happy hours. Let your own employees be your eyes and ears – they will not let you down.


Invest in a professional and nicely done website that highlights exciting projects, awards, and that has a current careers section. Websites do not sell a company, the people do, but it’s like purchasing a house – you won’t draw anyone in without good curb appeal.


According to Peter Weddles, owner of weddles.com and an expert in compiling research and statistics on this issue, the #1 source of employment for job seekers is answering ads and posting their resume on job boards. The #2 source of employment is through a call from a headhunter or staffing firm.

Stay away from the big internet job boards like Monster & Career Builder. First of all, they are too cumbersome – there are so many ways for job seekers to become distracted they sometimes forget what they even went there for. In some cases it may even expose them to other opportunities that may encourage them to leave the industry altogether. Secondly, you are competing against hundreds of your competitors, and even more recruiting agencies, that have access to these sites, so your ROI is minimal. The trend is to use niche job boards like www.civilengineeringcentral.com. Where ever you choose to run an advertisement, make it a compelling advertisement. I recently wrote an article for Professional Services Management Journal about this issue, for a copy just shoot me an email.


As a search consultant specific to this industry, my first, and of course biased recommendation, is to find an experienced search consultant who knows the industry. I have been recruiting in the civil engineering industry for over 11 years, I have a database of over 10,000 professionals within the civil engineering community, and I have worked on search assignments across the country. My team of recruiters that I work with have even more experience than I do, so our reach into the industry is extensive. These are all things you should consider when you choose to work with a recruiter.

Q3. What is the key to successfully placing job seekers with the right employers?
In a day and age when the market for professionals with an expertise in water resources, storm water management, drainage and wastewater is extremely tight, it is very important not to be hasty. Too often I see firms so strapped for help that they will hire anyone that walks in the door…do NOT fall into this trap. Clearly, you are looking for someone who has the technical expertise you are looking for. Make sure you ask them pointed technical questions during the interview. Dig deep into their project experience and don’t be afraid to post upon them your own hypothetical scenarios and see how they might solve the problem. Once you have a firm understanding of their technical capabilities, you really need learn about their work philosophy on the non technical issues like work environment, customer service, management style, business ethic and how they get along with their peers. No sense hiring a technically capable employee if they are on a different level when it comes to philosophy and management style. And make sure to verify their credentials regarding licensure and education. It is also of great benefit to have some of your employees meet with the candidate as well. They are able to evaluate candidates and develop professional opinions by looking and evaluating things from a different point of view. When all of this is said and done, make sure you check professional references.

Q4. How can employers stay competitive in attracting qualified personnel (for example, competitive salaries, benefits, training, etc.)?
Know your competition. Sign up for relevant monthly newsletters from industry associations and websites as they relate specifically to your industry, there are always different reports and articles coming out on these topics and the latest trends in salaries, benefits, training, etc. Keep your ears open as well, people are always talking about how much they make or what their bonus was, etc. Ask your peers in the industry what they are doing. Contact a recruiter who specializes in your industry and ask them, or hire a consultant to evaluate your current package. In any event, try to stay ahead of the curve, as falling behind can be detrimental.

Q5. Do you think our industry will continue to see a shortage of qualified employees in the near future? Any solutions?
I do, and I have blogged about this a couple of times on ASCE’s website. There is SO much opportunity in the hi-tech industry that many students these days are much more inclined to become computer engineers rather than civil engineers. So the industry needs to break out of it’s conservative nature and really make a strong PR push through ASCE and other associations. There is no real short term answer with the exception of increasing the pay. Our infrastructure needs a MAJOR face lift and clearly the civil engineering industry is the answer. The fate of our infrastructure lies in the hands of civil engineers, and that is exciting, but it comes with an enormous amount of responsibility, so pay these men and women what they are worth. The long term solution is marketing and public relations and thinking outside of the box by reaching out to children all across the country by getting them excited about civil engineering. When I say out of the box, I mean ideas like partnering with schools and hosting an engineering fair/competition where engineers from the community help out and/or judge – not just a science fair or competition, but specific to engineering; partnering with a software company that makes video games for Playstation and Game Cube and developing exciting and fun games that deal with civil engineering; partnering with local museums or libraries and developing eye catching displays, presentations or themes that highlight all the amazing works of civil engineers throughout history; partnering with the publisher of the ASCE magazine AND schools throughout the country and develop an engineering publication that is suited for kids…kind of like SI for Kids, but rather ASCE or Civil Engineering for Kids. Needless to say there is shortage, and there will continue to be a shortage unless proactive steps are made in these and many other directions.

What is your take on the shortage of civil engineers in our industry? What are your suggestions?

February 5, 2008 at 4:27 pm 10 comments


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