Beyond Words: What attracts today’s civil engineer recruits?

November 2006 » Columns » BEYOND WORDS
The fact that civil engineers are in short supply is no secret. Firms across the nation are facing an unprecedented shortage of capable personnel.
Everett Cowan, P.E.

The fact that civil engineers are in short supply is no secret. Firms across the nation are facing an unprecedented shortage of capable personnel. And while there are many reasons for this shortage, two of the biggest are 1) strong business conditions nationwide, and 2) the shortage of employees with mid-level experience because of the "baby bust" population decline. What's more, the situation will only exacerbate as America's 78 million baby boomers begin to leave the workforce.

Attracting and keeping qualified staff is on every firm's mind. Money and other "hard" benefits are always a draw; however, we find that "soft" factors are increasingly important to today's engineer.

Core values

Our core values, for example, have been embraced by employees and have appealed to new recruits as well. In fact, some newly hired employees have even stated that they were drawn to Gresham, Smith and Partners (GS&P) because they believed in and identified with the core values.

These four values—respect, commitment, integrity, and teamwork—serve as guiding principles for every decision we make, including how we relate to clients and how we build a team. Living out the core values might mean passing up a pursuit—even if it is profitable—if the job might compromise the firm's integrity. Valuing teamwork means reinforcing a team spirit despite strong differences in opinions.

When it comes to clients, extensive measures are taken to protect propriety information, requiring employees to adhere to all four core values. For example, we have chosen not to market projects that may compromise sensitive client information such as corporate relocations or expansions.

We've had employees say that since they attained their professional license, working for a firm that adheres to a set of values became even more meaningful and important.

Quality practice

Similar to core values, our quality practice initiatives are significant to our employees and new recruits. Integrating QA/QC into everyday practice is essential to long-term success as a firm. We want our employees to grow professionally through regular training because it is important to develop better professionals that are well-equipped to contribute to their communities and profession. While growing our business by revenue is necessary, it's even more essential to improve the way we practice. This practice-led mindset leads all the decisions we make as a firm.

Community service

Community involvement is valued highly by today's recruits. Now, more than ever, employees are involved in civic, leadership, and professional organizations. Realizing that their work shapes the communities around them, civil engineers want not only to give to the community through their design, but also to be part of the broader initiative of seeing the city they call home reach its full potential. They want to know what prospective employers are doing to give back. Generation Y employees are particularly known for their civic mindedness.

While GS&P offers financial support to civic organizations, it is more important to us to promote a sense of social consciousness in employees. Our charitable giving is governed by our GIVE (GS&P Individual Volunteer Empowerment) program, which places emphasis on employee involvement as a prerequisite to firm contributions. New recruits have responded positively to this civic support.

Training and mentoring

To maintain an aggressive recruitment posture, we continue to invest in innovative technology and increased attention to training. We offer professional mentoring, job shadowing, internships, and university cooperative programs.

One of the most successful training programs at GS&P is the EXCEL (Excellence through Continuous Education and Learning) program. In addition to classes offered through vendors and professional trainers, GS&P employees volunteer to teach coworkers on professional topics. EXCEL classes, held on campus and often during lunch, cover a variety of issues, including everything from time-management skills to CADD standards to geothermal heating and cooling technologies. Employees at all levels are learning and growing.

Mentoring is essential to modern job seekers. GS&P's training and mentoring initiatives have been well received by new hires, and we continue to extend the scope of these programs.

Conclusion

Recruiting and retaining qualified civil engineers is a challenge and a great concern for engineering firms today. Features that attracted top staff 10 years ago won't necessarily appeal to today's professionals, especially to mold-breaking Generation-Yers. True, hard, cold cash is always a draw, but the movement toward meaningful, intangible offerings cannot be denied.

We find that our recruiting and retention efforts are most successful when we remain flexible to the desires of today's professionals and when we join them in initiatives that enhance communities, the environment, and their profession.


Gresham, Smith and Partners
Headquarters: Nashville, Tenn.
Number of branch offices: 15
Total number of employees: more than 700
Year firm was established: 1967
Total billings for last fiscal year: approximately $90.5 million

Everett Cowan, P.E., is president and COO of Gresham, Smith and Partners, Nashville, Tenn. GS&P has had an aggressive recruiting program in recent years: In 2003, the firm hired 69 employees, and in 2004 the number rose to 158. In the first six months of 2006, GS&P hired 120 employees. Cowan can be reached via e-mail at everett_cowan@gspnet.com or by phone at 1-615-770-8174.


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