Mar 06, 2008

Wanted: Civil Engineers

For as long as I can remember, there has always been a great shortage of civil engineers in the marketplace—not only in the area of water resources, storm water management and wastewater but across all disciplines. There are a number of reasons for this shortage.

First, the industry needs better public relations and marketing work targeting young people. The civil engineering community at large needs to find ways to team up with schools and student organizations to expose students to exciting opportunities available in the profession and to draw light on how critical civil engineers are to our society.

Second, though there has been some adjustment recently, the pay for civil engineering professionals needs a boost. Compared to other engineering fields, civil engineers are near the bottom of the totem pole.

Finally, drainage, storm water, hydrology and hydraulics and micro-specialties within these areas tend to become too niche-oriented. Someone may come out of school and be assigned strictly to drainage and storm water management; it is great experience, but he or she may become pigeonholed if not assigned to larger-scale highway and land development projects. By having such a narrow specialization, these individuals are deemed experts and not necessarily exposed to managing entire projects. They often choose, therefore, to shift into more traditional roles or departments where they feel they can better advance their careers.

This shortage is evident across most disciplines in the industry—water/wastewater, transportation, geotechnical, municipal infrastructure, etc. There is also a strong upward trend in the federal programs segment to find engineers with experience in water resources, drainage, flood control and floodplain mapping. Whether contracts target studies, planning or engineering solutions to environmental or manmade disasters, candidates will need to oversee this work. Additionally, security upgrades to existing infrastructure will continue. Even though these are pockets of private development “slow-down,” environmental projects, federal programs and infrastructure improvements are running at top speed.

Proactive Solutions

So how do we solve this problem? There is no simple answer, but here are some things you should know to help curb the issue:

There is no real short-term answer, with the exception of increasing pay. U.S. infrastructure needs a major facelift, and civil engineers are the surgeons. The fate of our infrastructure lies in their hands, so paying these men and women what they deserve is important.

The best resource any company has for finding qualified employees is its own staff. Offer aggressive recruiting incentives for employees referring any potential candidates that ultimately get hired. Let your staff be your eyes and ears.

Invest in a professional website that highlights exciting projects and awards and features a current careers section. Websites do not sell a company, the people do. But it is much like purchasing a home—you will not draw anyone in without good curb appeal.

Use niche job boards such as www.civilengineeringcentral.com. According to Peter Weddles, owner of weddles.com and an expert in compiling research and statistics on this issue, the No. 1 source of employment for jobseekers is answering ads and posting résumés on job boards. The No. 2 source is through a call from a headhunter or staffing firm. Stay away from the big Internet job boards; they are too cumbersome. There are so many ways for jobseekers to become distracted that they sometimes forget why they even visited. Also, users compete against hundreds of competitors and even more recruiting agencies, so your return on investment is minimal. Wherever you choose to run an advertisement, make it compelling.

Find an experienced search consultant who knows the industry. I have been recruiting in the civil engineering industry for more than 11 years, possess a database of more than 10,000 industry professionals and have worked on search assignments nationwide. Recruiters come and go, so make sure you team up with an experienced recruiter who is an expert in your specific industry.

Become the face of civil engineering in your local community through chapters of the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Water Works Association and American Water Resources Association, for example. There are many opportunities in the high-tech industry, so many students are more inclined to become computer engineers than civil engineers. The industry needs to break out of its conservative shell and make a strong public relations push through associations. The long-term solution is marketing and thinking outside the box by reaching out to children across the country and getting them excited about civil engineering (i.e., partnering with schools and hosting engineering fairs and competitions; collaborating with libraries and museums; and developing eye-catching displays, presentations and themes that highlight civil engineering history).

There will continue to be a shortage unless all members of the civil engineering community take proactive steps. Many exciting ideas have been generated, and now is the time to take action.

About the author

<i>Matt Barcus is president of Precision Executive Search. Barcus can be reached at 888.525.5784 or by e-mail at [email protected].</i>

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