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Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

  • 1.  Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 09-22-2022 02:20 PM

    I read the President's Note In the September/ October issue of Civil Engineering and was left wondering if we are thinking broadly enough on how we will meet the future workforce challenge. What was particularly provoking was the comment that trade schools are siphoning off talent that otherwise might go into traditional CE educational programs. It makes me wonder if there's a way we can pull some of this talent into CE and not dilute the standards of the profession. I'm all for competency and critical thinking but is a four-year degree essential to fill many of the roles that need to be filled – and not compromise on safety or outcomes? Until we face up to this option we are really limiting the tools in the tool box to growth and likely leaving some great talent on the doorstep. I'm curious what others think here. This plays into a larger theme for me that the engineering writ large is ripe for disruption and if we don't take the lead it will happen without us.  



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 2.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 09-23-2022 01:58 PM
    A provocative question, Mitch.
    The trend of having engineers do tasks more suitable for technicians has been running for a while and should be disrupted. Too many engineers are frustrated by doing no-engineering tasks. I don't know if replacing draftsmen with engineers using CAD is a good or bad idea. Would like to hear others' thoughts on that, but many other technical tasks can be done better and less expensively by technicians.
    We talk about recruiting but do it less than the need demands. Recruiting from high schools and technology programs can be very effective. It is done by many local sections, but on a group basis. The most effective recruiting is done by urging talented individuals to try engineering. A local section mentor working with STEM and technology instructors can accomplish much more than career days alone.
    Finally, Introduction to Engineering freshman courses should be reconsidered. Too many are taught by jaded or inexperienced profs who either bore or frighten entry-level students out.

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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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  • 3.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 09-26-2022 03:53 PM
    The question about whether engineers should do CAD work or just oversee it has been around for decades.  I am not aware of efficiency studies in this regard.  From my personal experience, it depends on the engineer.  If CAD proficiency is ingrained in the engineer's training and mindset, it can work.  For some engineers who don't think or create in CAD terms, it will not work.  Much of CAD effort is purely technical, such as following standard protocol regarding the construction of a drawing file itself, layering, line styles, etc.  As a design manager, I promoted "whatever works" in the design development process based on the talent of the individuals involved.  In the end the drawings must adhere to drafting standards in place for the project, which can be quite technical.

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    James Ward P.E., M.ASCE
    RETIRED
    Worthington OH
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  • 4.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 09-27-2022 07:53 AM

    Oftentimes when I was on a construction site, I realized that I was, far and away, receiving the lowest compensation of anyone on site.  I met a union painter who was training one day, and he mentioned he had a degree in civil engineering, but he chose to become a painter when he realized that he would only have to work 8-9 months a year being a painter, receive better pay, benefits, and pension, and after 15 years, could become a full-time trainer, and after 15 years of that, retire with full benefits.  I have often considered his words and have just as often considered his career path.  15 years of labor and 15 years of training would have been all I needed for a safe and comfortable retirement, in lieu of 40+ of work with a retirement funded by the whims of the stock market.  In a world where basics like owning a home and providing for a family are getting further and further out of reach for many younger people, people are going to make rational decisions about how to provide for their material needs, and civil engineering is going to become less and less of a rational choice for people to make with better, adjacent ways to make ends meet.

    I was at a bar one New Year's Eve and met some software engineers making 3-4 times what I was making with similar experience to me.  When I told them what I did, they replied, "Oh, you're a real engineer!"  Respect, while soothing for the ego, does not pay the bills.  When I started school prior to the Great Recession, I was told that civil engineering was one of the lowest paying fields of engineering out there, and the collapse of the home building industry in the late 00s only exacerbated that.  Faced with record rents, record tuition costs, record childcare costs, it is only logical that people are going to insulate themselves against those stresses as best they can, and civil engineering has become a less and less attractive way to accomplish that over time.



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    Vanessa Rollins P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Rimkus
    Willowbrook IL
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  • 5.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 2 days ago
    Thanks, Venessa. These are great points, but I've always had reservations about CE salary concerns. I got curious about this a little while ago, since it's such a hot topic in my field of Structural Engineering, the lowest-paid Civil discipline. Here's what I concluded:

    - STEM salaries are nearly twice the all-occupations average. CE salaries are less than the STEM average, but only marginally.
    - CE entry level salaries are above the average entry level salary for jobs requiring a bachelor's degree, and well above the national all-occupations all-ages average. That means that mid-career folks in other jobs are struggling by on a fraction of what our graduate engineers make.
    - CE Salaries are consistently lower than Tech and Mech.
    - Anecdotally, engineers who were around in the 80's and earlier tell me we've come quite a long way from the days of competitive bidding and constant fee-undercutting.

    Tech makes us all feel bad about our salaries and benefits, because they operate on a business model that's basically a license to print money. I won't begrudge them what they have, but I don't see that as a good benchmark to "real engineering".

    At the same time, I've seen concerns over recruitment and retention grow from a concerned whisper to an all-out scream in the past few years, and compensation has a role in that. But if we're pushing to raise salaries it's not because we need the money, at least not any more than the average American. I also feel that there are different and perhaps better ways to get and keep talent. SE3 Survey data indicates that top reason people leave Structural Engineering is discrimination or harassment, most of it taking place in the office setting at the hands of a supervisor. Can you imagine how much DEI and outreach a mid-size firm could do with an extra $3k per employee per year, rather than marginally bumping up salaries?

    Here are some references:
    https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/ocwage_03312020.pdf
    https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/compensation/pages/salaries-for-college-graduates-climb-amid-labor-shortages.aspx#:~:text=The%20Summer%202021%20NACE%20Salary,average%20starting%20salary%20of%20%2450%2C944
    https://www.readgeo.com/geostrata/nov_dec_2019/MobilePagedArticle.action?articleId=1537920#articleId1537920
    https://www.se3committee.com/_files/ugd/9158d2_ae67b3bac245460da15bcca759483450.pdf
    https://www.se3committee.com/_files/ugd/9158d2_fed19c4ae63b4c3c81b567eead5ee096.pdf

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    Christian Parker P.E., M.ASCE
    Structural Project Engineer
    Washington DC
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  • 6.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 11-03-2022 11:59 PM
    I think the requirement for a 4-year college degree - necessary to obtain a PE - is an impediment to filling the CE ranks. Civil is the only engineering discipline where a PE is essential to effectively practice and prosper. Not to diminish any practicing engineers who have followed the traditional path - like me - but think there are many CE roles where a combination of training, apprenticeships, and internships can provide the same level of proficiency / competency and achieve the same level of protection to the public. I think questioning the need for a 4-year degree is not limited to engineering..

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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 7.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 11-14-2022 08:01 AM
    So Mitch,
    Your initial note reminded me of my distant-past in Edu.

    Back in 1957-59, I attended the SUNY/Farmingdale in a 2-year program:

    "Associates Degree in Highway & Bridge Engineering."

    Its purpose, looking back, was to do exactly what I think you are exploring now.

    Cheers,
    Bill

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    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
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  • 8.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 11-26-2022 02:17 PM
    It would be interesting to do an objective comparison between the preparation provided by this type of degree and the current standard specific to the skills needed for various CE roles.

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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 9.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 11-14-2022 10:35 AM
    I seem to remember that ASCE was working in the past decade towards going the opposite route, requiring 30 credit hours of postbaccalaureate study in order to fulfill the Body of Knowledge requirements, with NPSE in agreement, due to the increasing complexity of the work.

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    Vanessa Rollins P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Rimkus
    Willowbrook IL
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  • 10.  RE: Are we doing enough to meet the CE workforce challenge?

    Posted 2 days ago
    Fascinating question, Mitch.

    I grew up in a college town, attending public schools that were totally college-oriented. Most of my classmates have ended up with graduate degrees, typically in humanities or basic sciences. I always felt that college was overemphasized in an economy where most services we all rely on require practical experience rather than education. With staggering tuition rates, it's hard to justify the number of college grads we crank out each year nationally.

    Yet now, as a professional, I hesitate to say that Civil Engineering is the right field to make these inroads. A CE undergrad has a much greater importance to the day-to-day work it enables than most college degrees, and CE tasks that seem ripe for reduced qualifications may rely on an understanding of geometry and physics that we mostly pick up in undergrad. I work for a small firm; and our (excellent) one-person drafting department has a Bachelor's in Civil Engineering.

    Is it possible to separate out tasks that can be done with less training and delegate them so that trained engineers are free to? Perhaps-but delegating work is one of the tasks we perform that requires the least training, so I'm not convinced this is more efficient. I find myself especially grateful for my university training when operating analysis software and creating drawings. If we make all our trained engineers full-time delegators writing emails and coordinating deadlines, are we wasting that training on tasks that rely more on soft skills?

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    Christian Parker P.E., M.ASCE
    Structural Project Engineer
    Washington DC
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