Profile of a consulting engineer

Building professionals continue to work more hours on smaller teams. What does your job look like?


Salary surveys always pique my interest. How do I compare to my peers? What are they doing differently in their jobs? Do we all have the same challenges and problems? What industry trends should I watch for? Am I paid competitively?

Fresh graduates and new employees likely have many more questions than these. For example, how many hours should they work each week to both impress their boss and keep a work-life balance intact? Should they volunteer for every project to obtain valuable experience, regardless of how busy they are? To whom should they turn when a problem pops up? And how do they navigate office politics?

One of the top complaints among employees across all industries is a lack of communication. The problem may be internal—supervisors and employees not connecting—or external, in which communication among various parties breaks down. For example, in this year’s salary survey, 67.5% cited poor communication between the consultants, architect, etc. as a top challenge. The usual suspects, codes and standards (55%) and lack of training (44.4%), were next on the list.

A growing trend stems from several years of a bad economy: There are not enough people on a project team (47.5% of respondents indicated that this is a job-related challenge). Companies slimmed down, engineers and building professionals were asked to do more or work more hours, and project team members became multitaskers with as few people as possible on those teams.

In this year’s study, respondents are working on an average of seven projects at the same time on any given day. One-fifth of respondents are juggling 10 or more projects at a time. And nearly half (47%) of survey respondents worked on a total of 11 to 40 projects throughout the course of the year.

Back to the streamlined teams: Nearly two-thirds (63.6%) of respondents work on a team consisting of one to five people on a project. While that may seem like a large team to manage, it’s a small group of people working a lot of hours. In fact, when asked how many hours survey participants worked weekly, the numbers are high: 37% work 40 to 44 hours, and 51% work 45 or more hours. A full one-third of participants work 50 hours or more per week. Note: Hours worked are not the same as hours billed (billable hours are lower). 

These are all challenges for younger team members. When asked about age breakdown in these project teams, the numbers show 34% of the project team or work group is younger than 40 years old. That’s good—it means firms are building young professionals’ skills via teamwork. And it’s also a challenge in that teams comprise junior staff without a lot of experience or real-world knowledge.

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