The future of professional engineers: retention

Young engineers are an important resource for firms—recruiting, training, and retaining fresh talent is important for a company’s future success. Here, engineers with experience in attracting and developing new talent share advice to help their professional development while increasing their value to the company. Engineering firms also discuss how they are retaining new talent and the progress of young engineers.

07/27/2016


Meghan Calabro, PE, Assistant Department Manager, Telecom & Network Engineering, Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City, Mo. Courtesy: Burns & McDonnell Michael J. Ferreira, PE, Vice President Development, Jensen Hughes, Baltimore. Courtesy: Jensen HughesDavid Harris, Senior Recruiter, Stanley Consultants, Phoenix. Courtesy: Stanley ConsultantsWilliam E. Koffel, PE, FSFPE, President, Koffel Associates Inc., Columbia, Md. Courtesy: Koffel Associates Inc.Douglas Lacy, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, WSP + ccrd | A WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff Co., Dallas. Courtesy: WSP + ccrd | A WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff Co.Paul Meyer, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CEM, CBCP, Senior Vice President, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York City. Courtesy: WSP | Parsons BrinckerhoffChristopher O’Connor, Engineering Operations Manager, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Albany, N.Y. Courtesy: EYP Architecture & EngineeringRon Parsley, PE, LEED AP, NCEES, Electrical Engineer, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Madison, Wis. Courtesy: Affiliated Engineers Inc.

Respondents

Meghan Calabro, PE, Assistant Department Manager, Telecom & Network Engineering, Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City, Mo.

Michael J. Ferreira, PE, Vice President Development, Jensen Hughes, Baltimore

David Harris, Senior Recruiter, Stanley Consultants, Phoenix

William E. Koffel, PE, FSFPE, President, Koffel Associates Inc., Columbia, Md.

Douglas Lacy, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, WSP + ccrd | A WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff Co., Dallas

Paul Meyer, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CEM, CBCP, Senior Vice President, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York City

Christopher O'Connor, Engineering Operations Manager, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Albany, N.Y.

Ron Parsley, PE, LEED AP, NCEES, Electrical Engineer, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Madison, Wis.


 

CSE: How does your firm retain young talent?

Koffel: The firm received a Corporate Culture Award in the Baltimore metro area. We offer a benefits program that is competitive with larger engineering firms. We promote individual professional and personal growth. Despite the growing nature of the firm, we attempt to retain a family-like work environment and are conscious of the need for a work-life balance. In the past year, we created the Young Professionals Group, which plans social events for members and all employees. The group also organizes at least one community service project and is often asked for direct input on specific issues faced by the company. Lastly, a representative of the group actively participates in corporate-management meetings.

Younger engineers on staff with EYP Architecture & Engineering get professional assistance from more senior engineers—and from each other, in the form of studying groups. Courtesy: EYPHarris: One of the ways we retain our young talent is by retaining seasoned talent. These experts in their disciplines regularly mentor and guide young engineers. I have heard from many of our young engineers that this is important to them. They feel they owe a debt of gratitude to their mentors. Young staff members also appreciate the wide variety of opportunities available to them. We have offices around the world and offer young engineers the opportunity to travel and contribute to important projects around the globe.

Parsley: Challenging and interesting project work is key to ongoing engagement. We believe our compensation structure and flexibility contribute as well.

O'Connor: A recent Deloitte survey provides great insight into the millennial mindset, and we've been putting this feedback to use as we evolve our engagement programs at EYP. The survey makes clear that compensation is still king, as we'd expect, but leadership development, advancement, and a sense of purpose were the next-tier items that resonate with our vision. We've considered a separate training curriculum altogether for our "young professionals," but we believe a few key areas resonate regardless of generation. The differentiator is that the message needs to be tailored a bit different for each generation in order for it to be meaningful. With those common threads as the foundation, we work to make sure each session contains a learning element, a social element, and a cultural element. Over the course of a year, we believe these workshops help employees find their own sense of purpose, build their skills, and strengthen their connection to each other.

Calabro: To retain young talent, I try to advocate on behalf of my employees and provide them with opportunities and connections that they can act upon to grow their careers. The more I know about an employee, the more I can understand his/her motivations and aspirations. Through my experiences managing new through 4-year engineers at Burns & McDonnell, I have found three major factors that typically determine employee engagement, thus retention: They want to work on interesting, important projects, have unique opportunities for career development, and be part of the team. As a manager, I am constantly thinking about these factors and what I can do to engage and empower my employees and foster a culture of teamwork.

Ferreira: Our firm primarily retains young talent by giving them responsibilities proportional to their abilities and providing a high-quality work environment. We also engage them on very interesting projects; many engineers stay with us because they enjoy what they are working on. We strive to offer a variety of work assignments to avoid boredom associated with repetitive tasking.

Lacy: Retaining great talent requires creating an environment where talent is challenged on a daily basis, where they feel engaged in the process, where each person works to serve a purpose that aligns with their core values, and where their contributions are appreciated, both financially and socially. Finding the correct balance between each of these goals varies not only between generations but also amongst individuals within any demographic group.

Meyer: At WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, we are constantly monitoring the work-life balance of the staff. We have an internal work hard/play hard motto. For instance, we shut down the office early and have a Halloween costume party where even the president shows up in costume. We have events outside of work geared toward younger staff including both local sports teams, such as softball, and higher-level competitions, such as our U.S. and Canada divisions playing each other in ice hockey. Our team also participates in public events like marathons, a community-supported agriculture program, game night, and other events geared toward having fun. During the summer, we have a 9/80 workweek program with every other Friday off so staff can spend 3-day weekends with family. For work, we have the training, mentoring, and personal-development programs to help staff members grow quickly.


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