Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Empowering the Next Generation: Strategies to Inspire Students Towards Careers in Civil Engineering and Adjacent Fields

    Posted 04-12-2024 11:38 AM

    Hello all! 

    You don't have to be a principal or partner at a civil engineering firm to recognize the need for hiring more engineers, designers, inspectors, and surveyors. Many engineering firms are struggling to hire these crucial staff. State and government agencies also struggle with chronic understaffing and certain states even struggle with not having enough of these professionals present to begin with. 

    Given the present shortage, it would be wise to take steps to build up the stock of future potential professionals in these important areas. 

    What's the best way to do this? 

    Do we try to get into high schools to present to students and hopefully inspire them to pursue these career paths? 
    Should the US government provide special incentives for people pursuing degrees that are in high demand? 
    Should private engineering firms try to expand their internship opportunities? 

    What are your thoughts? 

    Cody Obropta P.E., M.ASCE
    Environmental Engineer
    Maine Department of Environmental Protection
    Bangor ME

  • 2.  RE: Empowering the Next Generation: Strategies to Inspire Students Towards Careers in Civil Engineering and Adjacent Fields

    Posted 04-15-2024 09:59 AM

    Hey Cody,

    This seems like an important question. I do see value in trying to attract interest in the field at a younger age.

    Engaging high school and college students, possibly in the form of internships, may help busy firms who are struggling to hire in a number of ways.

    1. It could potentially give their junior engineers management experience and an opportunity to oversee basic tasks that interns complete.
    2. It may allow companies to handle more work with less budget.
    3. It could also give interns, particularly those who may have never considered engineering before, a temporary income and a long-term vision about a path to future success. 

    According to a quick Google search, just about half of the US is college educated. This is no surprise to anyone who has ever looked into ways to expand diversity in the industry before, but there is a large untapped market of potential future college-educated professionals out there if the industry can find the means to successfully support them while they are recruited. 

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 3.  RE: Empowering the Next Generation: Strategies to Inspire Students Towards Careers in Civil Engineering and Adjacent Fields

    Posted 04-17-2024 10:10 AM

    Let's take a look at this through the lens of constructing a building.  For this hypothetical scenario, let's assume I need 1,000 ten foot long 2x10s to build this apartment building.  I don't want to spend more than $15,000 for these 2x10s, but my normal supplier only has 500 of them at $15 each.  However, there's another supplier I don't normally use across town that's more expensive that does have all 1,000 2x10s available, but they're $25 each.  It's more than I want to spend, but I would struggle to construct this building without them, so I adjust my costs elsewhere to ensure I can afford the $25,000 for these 2x10s so my business can continue to operate.

    I would suggest considering that the market for goods is not so unlike the market for labor.  If you can't purchase enough labor at the rates you want to pay, you have to raise what you will pay for that labor until you reach equilibrium of supply and demand.  For evidence of that, consider the rise of tech jobs over the past 25 years.  Tech jobs have grown a reputation for paying extremely well, and there is no shortage of people in tech or entering tech, to the point where there are far more people looking for work than there are positions; now to the detriment of the industry as the market for tech labor is collapsing.  Medical doctors have a reputation for being paid well.  There are far more candidates for medical schools than there are openings, to the point that people will go to school outside of the country with the hopes of being able to get a job in the United States later. 

    In contrast, civil engineering has the reputation of being the lowest paid of the major engineering fields.  Whether or not that is true, the reputation is there and it has been entrenched for at least the past 15 years since the Great Recession.  Because of this, fewer people are going to want to endure the difficult coursework and the stresses inherent to our work.  Until that reputation changes, I don't believe that there will be any major changes in the amount of people entering the industry.  We can't lower the barriers of entry to the field to make it more palatable for more people.  The degree cannot be made easier, rather, we are constantly discussing making the time spent in school longer.  The PE cannot be made easier to get unless we want to risk the reputation of the industry. Just as you can't inspire your materials supplier to provide 1,000 2x10s at the price you want to spend because you really need them for your site, you can't inspire your way into having a growing workforce without spending the money to make it happen when other industries with better reputations are competiting for the same pool of talent.

    Small efforts can only produce small gains.  Large problems require a large solution. If this is only a small problem for the future of the industry, then we should keep considering small solutions.  If this is a big problem for the future of industry, then we need to consider solutions commensurate with the scale of the problem.

    Vanessa Rollins P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Willowbrook IL