Shortage in Consulting Engineers Poses a Problem

May 2006 » Business Briefs
> Firm leaders cite a lack of qualified candidates and the proximity of potential candidates to the office as the key obstacles to filling vacancies. In ZweigWhite's 2006 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Consulting Firms, 65 percent of firms responded that a lack of qualified candidates was their biggest reason for difficulties with hiring while, following that, 11 percent said geographic location of the office in comparison to the potential workforce. Those numbers rang true with engineering firm leaders we spoke with, who say that the lack of qualified consulting engineers, coupled with the office's geographical location, is indeed posing a challenge in filling positions. A job posting might yield several resumes, but firm leaders say that it's difficult to find qualified consulting engineers for the vacancy.

> Firm leaders cite a lack of qualified candidates and the proximity of potential candidates to the office as the key obstacles to filling vacancies.

In ZweigWhite's 2006 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Consulting Firms, 65 percent of firms responded that a lack of qualified candidates was their biggest reason for difficulties with hiring while, following that, 11 percent said geographic location of the office in comparison to the potential workforce.

Those numbers rang true with engineering firm leaders we spoke with, who say that the lack of qualified consulting engineers, coupled with the office's geographical location, is indeed posing a challenge in filling positions. A job posting might yield several resumes, but firm leaders say that it's difficult to find qualified consulting engineers for the vacancy.

At Lenard Engineering, Inc. (Storrs, Conn.), a 35-person, multi-discipline engineering firm, President Mark Temple says the job market for qualified consulting engineers is tight across southern New England.

"There doesn't appear to be a shortage of applicants for the job opportunities that we post since the Internet has opened up our newspaper and electronic ads to a worldwide audience," he said. "As a result, we often receive dozens of responses from candidates residing in foreign countries. Unfortunately, most of these applicants don't have the requisite experience or the means to enter the country.

"While the candidate pool may be large, the number of candidates that we actually consider for most openings is increasingly tight," he continued. "It's hard to say why, but ultimately I believe that the best and brightest math and science students are not drawn to the field of engineering because there are much more glamorous and better-paying opportunities in other fields of study."

The problem is not unique to New England, either.

Dana Swindler, CEO of 50-person civil engineering firm Schoell Madson (Plymouth, Minn.), says that, while it has improved from two to three years ago, there's still a shortage of qualified consulting engineers in the Twin Cities, with it being even more difficult to find land surveyors. "The shortage, I believe, is due to the lack of students graduating as engineers or land surveyors."

Location increases chances
While firm leaders agree that it's difficult to find qualified consulting engineers, they notice that some office locations in different geographical areas have an easier time filling vacancies than others.

For Lenard's Winsted, Conn., office, Temple said the firm has struggled to find candidates, but has had better luck in its Auburn, Mass., location. Winsted is roughly 100 miles from New York City whereas Auburn is approximately 50 miles from Boston. "We have been actively seeking a four- to seven-year project civil engineer for our Winsted office for more than a year."

Temple can only guess as to the reason why the Connecticut office is having difficulty filling vacancies. "Exit interviews with many of these young engineers tell us that they are often drawn away from us by a need to be closer to population centers with nightlife," Temple says.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Daniel Driesenga, president of 100-person land planning, civil engineering, land surveying, geotechnical engineering, and materials testing firm Driesenga & Associates, Inc. (Holland, Mich.), says the job market is soft for engineers in his state. "That is not the case in our Indianapolis office, and we are currently exploring expansion in markets south of Indy," he said. "Outside of Michigan, most of the country is in expansion mode, with more jobs than engineers available."

The firm has been able to fill roughly 10 positions at its Michigan office, Driesenga said, but it's experienced more of a challenge at filling vacancies in Indianapolis, where some openings have remained vacant for six months or longer.

Filling the void
Regardless of the shortage of qualified candidates or an organization's geographical location, firm leaders recognize the need to be proactive in recruiting potential employees.

For Lenard's vacancies, Temple said, the firm advertises in regional papers, on the Internet, and, occasionally it uses recruiters, especially for senior positions. "The print ads and Internet ads can be successful, but they are hit or miss," he says. "I would guess that these types of ads are successful for us about 40 to 50 percent of the time. The recruiters are effective since they typically have highly motivated candidates. The obvious downside is their fee."

Schoell Madson has gone on campus to recruit engineers-in-training, Swindler said, and pays "large in-house referral bonuses to employees who find employees." The firm pays up to $5,000 for a senior person. These tactics have worked "adequately," with both efforts ending in either finding good engineers-in-training or hirings.

Driesenga & Associates uses a variety of tactics. "We've been transferring people from Michigan to Indy to address the oversupply in Michigan and the tight market in Indy," Driesenga said. "We hope to employ the same strategy as we open offices further south, and we've developed a very attractive relocation package to facilitate that."

Some of the highlights in the package include a moving bonus and "housing expenses being covered for up to 12 months-allowing time for the employee to sell their current house or run-out their current apartment lease," Driesenga said.

On the college recruiting level, Driesenga says, the firm has an internship program and hires many of the interns upon graduating. Additionally, the firm uses professional recruiters, word-of-mouth, employee referrals, Internet job websites, and its own website to find potential candidates. "Overall, we find the combination of steps has been successful," he said. "We've also had a good response promoting the fact that we're one of the Top 25 'Best Firms to Work For' as selected by CE News in 2005."-Franceen Shaughnessy (fshaughnessy@zweigwhite.com)

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (Issue #657, published April 10, 2006).


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