Planning for the future

Succession planning is key for any company. Whether it’s a formal program or less formal mentoring, putting a plan in place will ensure your engineering firm’s future success.

By Amara Rozgus, Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 28, 2015

The idea of retirement has been scuttled by many Americans. Thanks to the Great Recession, many baby boomers cannot retire as planned—or retirement now includes a part-time job or consulting work. This is quite possibly the new normal for every generation; many don’t want to fully cut ties to their career, like the concept of a regular form of income, started a career late due to a tough job market, or simply cannot imagine life without professional purpose.

The baby boom generation, generally accepted as those born between 1946 and 1964, began to reach the traditional retirement age of 65 about four years ago. While some people retired at this time (or even before the age of 65), many are still in the workplace. According to research conducted by Consulting-Specifying Engineer, nearly half of the audience is older than 56 (with about 20% older than 65). The younger portion of this audience sector is just a few years shy of hitting that magical retirement age of 65, which means there will be even more of a brain drain at consulting firms.

In a nutshell, engineers aren’t getting any younger and are continuing to stay in the workforce for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is that there aren’t enough young engineers and professionals with the knowledge and abilities to take on the variety of projects firms are tackling.

This is causing serious problems. While not unique to the engineering profession, the lack of succession planning leaves a gaping hole for human resources. Whether done through mentoring, focused team building, or company training and promotion programs, succession planning is the key to ensuring that knowledge is passed from seasoned engineers to junior team members. And while the general theories of engineering and physics don’t change much, the ability to navigate the technologies and tools that allow consultants to design systems and buildings changes quickly.

Younger members of the team have worked (for the most part) in a computer-centric world. They’re on top of new technologies, use calculation tools extensively, and communicate in ways never dreamed of by many. Some of these up-and-comers are highlighted in this issue. The 40 Under 40 winners (see are breaking new ground in many ways. For example, one of the winners is guiding future professionals by teaching. Several have taken on international assignments and are leading teams on world-class projects. Others became principals at a very young age.

Each 40 Under 40 winner was nominated by someone, indicating that they’ve got someone on their team who cares about their professional development. This may be only one small step for the building and engineering profession; it’s a huge leap for succession planning.