Planning for the future of engineering

Is your firm ready to lose 20% of its key engineers? My guess is no.

04/01/2011


I’ve been thinking about retirement a lot lately. For those of you who know me (or who can guess from seeing my photo), I’m nowhere near retirement. But still, I think about it. How will I transition to a new portion of my life? How will I continue to give back to the building and engineering community through volunteer options? Where will I live? Can I even afford to retire?

 

The questions my colleagues at work should be asking might be more important: How will we replace the knowledge and abilities of a seasoned employee? How do we ensure a smooth transition from one person to the next? Where do we find young, skilled employees to move up quickly through the ranks?

 

These are all questions that firms across the nation—including engineering firms like yours—are asking as baby boomers age and move into the next stage of their careers (or non-careers). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 marks the first year that baby boomers are eligible for Social Security, Medicare, and other perks. There are more than 77 million baby boomers in the United States, and by 2030 this demographic (born from 1946 to 1964) will represent an estimated 20% of the population.

 

Taking these numbers into account, is your firm ready to lose 20% of its key engineers? My guess is no. Action is required from both sides of the equation: the soon-to-be-retired and the still-climbing-the-ladder.

 

We’ll start with the seasoned engineer. You hold all the knowledge, and much like being a medical doctor, the pressure is on you to ensure the younger generation “does no harm” and engineer each building or system properly. 

 

The first thing you can do is mentor a few younger engineers. Take them under your wing and out on client visits. Ensure they can actually do the work, not just follow your lead. Invest in the recommendations in our Career Smart column, and ensure that your younger staff is ready—not just for the engineering challenges, but for the general, communication, business development, and people skills they’ll need in the future.

 

For the younger audience, connect with some of the more senior members of your team—on all levels. Ensure they’re aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and can help guide you both personally and professionally. You’re still busy learning and climbing the corporate ladder, but take time out of your day to ensure you’ve connected both in person and online. The Consulting-Specifying Engineer LinkedIn group is pretty active, and can be a good source of ideas. We also host an Engineering Education Center to help you enhance your technical and soft skills.

 

In addition to online resources, Consulting-Specifying Engineer is working on an in-person event to help everyone hone these soft skills. If your firm has a mentor matching program or a well-mapped succession plan, I’d like to hear from you.

 

And finally, as we all prepare for retirement, remember that many of the people you work with and for will become lifelong friends and colleagues. I know that I’ll continue to run into mentors and previous coworkers throughout my working career and in retirement. It’s important to keep these people close.  



No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Water use efficiency: Diminishing water quality, escalating costs; Lowering building energy use; Power for fire pumps
Building envelope and integration; Manufacturing industrial Q&A; NFPA 99; Testing fire systems
Labs and research facilities: Q&A with the experts; Water heating systems; Smart building integration; 40 Under 40 winners
Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Protecting standby generators for mission critical facilities; Selecting energy-efficient transformers; Integrating power monitoring systems; Mitigating harmonics in electrical systems
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.