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Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

  • 1.  Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-27-2020 11:40 AM
    Over the Past 3 years I have been working full time as both Asst. Superintendent/Acting Superintendent since graduating with my bachelors in December 2017, and passing my FE and trying to work towards PE licensure. I have had multiple issues with current and past employers following through on the ability to provide the opportunities to work with registered PE's as agreed to per contract as well as design issues I was told I would be asked to assist on.

    I am finding that the construction side of the industry, as lucrative and filled with opportunities as it is, is not conducive to obtaining your PE and transitioning at that level to a design role. Further, there really is no actual mental challenge or rigor that I am really seeking from a career nor what I had been led to believe was down this path. Has anyone been in this position before or know someone who has been? Not a lot of overall guidance on how to transfer back over and no one I can find has ever had this issue. Is the answer to go back for a masters or graduate degree? What types of positions should I been looking for and at what level given my experience (assuming entry level)?

    I appreciate any insight you all could give me towards making this transition would be very much appreciated, be it personal or through a colleague.

    Matthew Bruening EI,A.M.ASCE
    Assistant Superintendent/Project Engineer
    Jacksonville FL

  • 2.  RE: Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-28-2020 10:06 AM
    Matthew, I certainly appreciate your position. I was working for [Big General Contractor] for a little over a year before leaving to join a design and consulting firm. Admittedly, I was in for a short enough time that I didn't have much chance to suffer from the Sunk Cost Fallacy, but while the company claims to support and encourage people to seek and attain their P.E. licenses, there was no discernible plan for that, just "we support that."

    For me, counting that time toward my required 4 years' experience included really "talking up" the design *type* work I did. While I wasn't specifically designing anything, there were several instances where on the fly, a field engineering solution was required. We didn't have time to put it back to the architects or structural engineers in a formal (slow) way, so we drew something up, called the engineer(s), and had them tweak if necessary.

    Sometimes the true engineering work was as simple as checking to make sure the engineering/architecture was sound. Just because a designer has a licenses doesn't mean they had their head screwed on straight the morning they drafted something for us. And a lot of the problem-solving was definitely engineering work.

    As far as verification for applying to take the PE exam, my supervisor wasn't a licensed professional, but he was able to confirm/certify that I did work alongside the licensed engineers that we hired as the general contractor for the Design/Build project. I'm happy to send you my form for this particular job so you can see how I drafted this. For whatever it's worth, VA's Board accepted this experience.

    And as far as transferring over to another company and getting into design and consulting, play UP the experience you have. More than once, I've heard a superintendent rightly state, "designers don't know how to build." Knowing how to build helps knowing how to design, and vice versa. When I first started designing stormwater practices, I'd be designing tight tolerances. Try to build something with 1" elevation variances using a 15-ton track hoe and 4-6" aggregate. {facepalm}

    Oh, quick anecdote. I was in a coordination meeting with several engineers and architects, and my direct supervisor at the time (young, bull-headed, not the one who signed off on my experience), as we were looking through the BIM model for a tight space, identifying issues and potential conflicts. One particular type of structural support was required to have at least a 45-degree angle from vertical in order to provide appropriate lateral stability. I looked at one of the members, said "the horizontal distance is greater than the vertical distance on that one, so we're good." My supervisor turned toward me and snapped "let the engineers do their jobs!" I didn't even have to use the super-heavy, super-engineery Pythagorean Theorem </s>, and still got snapped at for doing "the engineer's job." That was right around the time I decided I was absolutely going to leave.

    Good luck!

    Ari Daniels, P.E., M.ASCE
    Water Resources Engineer
    Center for Watershed Protection, Inc.

  • 3.  RE: Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-31-2020 03:46 PM
    I am 82 years old and am an architect (not a PE) but have been in various aspects of design and construction, both private and government, over the years (that's why I'm a member). Here are a couple of reality comments that may be helpful.

    • There is no such thing as a perfect boss.
    • There is no such thing as a perfect employee.
    • There is no such thing as a perfect job.
    • Unless life safety is at stake, or big dollar amounts, pass over the shortcomings and move on.
    • If your expectations are unreasonably high, no one will be able to meet them. Nobody is perfect.
    • In the end, if you are not getting what you want from a job, this is America. Move on. Your choice.
    • Be careful what you wish for. Make sure you're moving toward your goals, not just sideways. (I've seen people who "move on," and a year afterward, they are essentially right back where they started from, occasionally worse.)
    • You learn what you can from your environment, leave the rest (for the most part, it's just background noise.) Don't make a big fuss over little things.
    • Before questioning others, question yourself. (Are you being too demanding? Are your expectations unrealistic? Are your alternatives realistic? Etc.)  
    • Never make a life-altering decision in independently, in absentia.  Get advice form those you respect the most (perhaps even us members. You're starting off on the right foot, so to speak. I hope so.)
    Best of luck to you.

    Lloyd Rain Aff.M.ASCE
    Dir Purch, Retired
    Lloyd Rain Associates
    Yuma AZ

  • 4.  RE: Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-31-2020 04:47 PM
    Removed! I realized that Lloyd's comment was intended for Matthew, not me. :-)


  • 5.  RE: Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-28-2020 08:32 PM

    I believe that there are a couple of paths available to you.

    1. Find a larger company like Jacobs or AECOM.  They have project managers, project engineers all active in the construction side of engineering.
    2. Find a good land development engineering company that is more that 3-5 engineers.  They have many construction management positions as part of their field services divisions.  In Houston companies like Jones & Carter, LJA, LAN, Brown & Gay all fit the concept of land development companies.

    I am certain that Jacksonville FL has similar companies with different names.  Both these types of companies would have engineers somewhere in your management train that could meet the definition of "under the supervision of".  Also, both would allow transition from strictly field to a combination of field / office or all office situation if you want it.  I am also certain that you will be pleasantly surprised by their compensation opportunities.

    Good luck.

    Dwayne Culp, Ph.D., Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    Culp Engineering, LLC
    Rosenberg TX

  • 6.  RE: Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-29-2020 03:39 PM
    Dwayne hit the nail on the head. Take a peek at the ENR Top 20's job opportunities. There will be ample opportunity in firms of this size to get the design experience that you need, and still be able to apply to the construction experience that you have.

    Michael Devuono P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Water Engineer
    Arcadis U.S., Inc.
    Philadelphia PA

  • 7.  RE: Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-31-2020 08:46 AM
    You mentioned one of your construction firms did allow for you to work alongside PE's contracted to do design on Design-Build projects. It sounds like that was not as collaborative an experience as you would have liked. Have you investigated and fully integrated Design-Build firms that manage much if the design with in house designers?
    I had a preference for the construction end but I worked many years for a west coast based D-B construction firm and I found it to be very rewarding experience when executing design-build projects. There was a high level of collaboration between the designers and constructors that resulted in great project outcomes. We benchmarked with other companies to improve our processes so I became familiar with D-B firms through out the US. Your bio mentions Jacksonville FL. I suggest you look into Haskell, they have in-house engineering and construction staff and they are based in Jacksonville.

    James Gernand EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Redwood City CA

  • 8.  RE: Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-31-2020 04:50 PM
    Thanks a bunch James,

    I've definitely been going through and searching for these types of firms, and there are a good few still in Florida. Unfortunately with Haskell they were my first employer out of school, and it was made clear to me that it was not a priority or goal to allow me to transfer over to the Engineering Department or put me in a position to work with in house engineers after about the first year (Strictly keep me as a superintendent). Though I left on good terms and did what I could to transfer into the engineering dept, its one company I found that doesn't leave a lot of flexibility in career path.

    Matthew Bruening EI,A.M.ASCE
    Assistant Superintendent/Project Engineer
    Jacksonville FL

  • 9.  RE: Transitioning from Construction to Design (SEEKING GUIDANCE)

    Posted 08-31-2020 04:58 PM
    You will need the engineering work under a PE to qualify. I have seen several applications for the PE be sent back to the candidate for 6 to 16 months additional residency/intern time due to the candidates early career experience did not have enough "engineering" according to the review team. They were disappointed after waiting 5-years to take the exam having to gain more time doing "engineering" instead of construction administration/monitoring.

    Thomas Hernacki P.E.,M.ASCE
    Aurora CO