Engineering—a vocation and a vision

Engineers and building professionals often see themselves as fulfilling a vocation. But there are not enough junior-level people to fill in the gaps.

By Amara Rozgus, Editor-in-Chief May 24, 2018

According to the latest figures, slightly more than one-third of Americans hold a 4-year degree, the highest level measured so far by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For college graduates, earnings typically go up and unemployment goes down, indicating more education leads to a better possibility of earning employment. Those numbers don’t count the number of people who start college and leave for whatever reason—money, grades, lack of interest, family issues.

That degree guarantees neither a job nor a career, however. Many people graduate from school deep in debt, with no foreseeable career to consider. They pick up short contract positions or wind up in a job for which they’ve had little training—or they find themselves in positions that are very different from what they envisioned. Pay is based on a variety of factors: geographic location, industry, experience, and more.

Vocational schools are hurting too. A “blue collar” job does not often appeal to high school graduates; working with their hands either seems beneath them or is interpreted as a low-paying job (it’s not). Many of the trades are desperate for skilled workers, and both residential and nonresidential construction projects are often slowed because of this lack of workers. BLS reports indicate that employment of construction laborers and helpers is expected to grow by 12% through 2026, which is faster than average for any occupation.

There aren’t a lot of 4-year degrees that would be considered vocational. Engineering is an obvious one, as are teaching and journalism degrees. Even the engineering profession, which is considered to be a high-paying position with a good amount of upward mobility, is hurting for new graduates.

At a recent conference for commissioning agents, the folks I spoke with lamented that they couldn’t find enough talent to fill positions—and subsequently lost opportunities to bid on some projects. They were looking for junior-level staff members with some building system knowledge to parlay to the commissioning side. They were also seeking to fill positions for senior-level, highly skilled commissioning and building systems professionals. They could find neither. And they pointed back to the lack of skilled graduates with the degrees or vocational training needed to fill these positions.

The Great Recession, which started in 2008, was difficult across all industries and hurt the construction industry in particular. That’s why it’s heartening to see the 2018 40 Under 40 winners, each of whom has built up a career in the building industry over the past 10 or so years. This year’s winners have excelled in many areas, and continuing to enhance and grow the building industry is just one of them.