The future of professional engineers: recruitment

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. Many engineers have varying methods regarding how they recruit new talent.

By CFE Media July 19, 2016



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 recruit young professionals, those still in or just graduated from college? Do you have co-op programs set up with specific engineering schools?

Meghan Calabro: Burns & McDonnell’s internship program gives college students a first-hand look at the work and the culture at our company and allows us to determine whether the student is a good fit for full-time employment. Interns work on real projects all summer, gain technical experience, and participate in intramurals, service projects, technical tours, social events, and team activities. Some interns get the chance to go onsite to see their work. Interns learn about all of the industries that we serve at Burns & McDonnell, and they have great exposure to company leadership.

Michael J. Ferreira: Our firm actively recruits from area universities close to each of our satellite offices and does targeted recruiting at universities that have specialty programs appropriate to our business offerings (e.g., fire protection engineering). Most of our offices employ summer and year-long co-ops who are given engineering assignments that complement their individual skill levels and give them practical engineering experience.

David Harris: We recruit young professionals at college engineering career fairs, through our active internship program, by attending college engineering department events, through targeted advertising, and via our employee referral program.

William E. Koffel: We do not have a formal co-op program, but we do have a regular program in which we hire two to four interns who generally start upon completion of the spring semester. The interns work during the summer months and do some work during the academic year or during other breaks (holidays, spring break, etc.). More than 40% of our current engineers started with us as interns while they were still attending college.

Doug Lacy: WSP + ccrd tries to engage students while they are still in college. We find that summer or part-time internships or co-ops are the best ways to find the most qualified individuals and make sure they fit within our organization while allowing them to see if our company fits their career goals. We have had success across the country at various universities. Each of our regional office recruits from programs close to that office and shares candidates that may wish to relocate where we have offices around the globe.

Paul Meyer: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff has several programs to recruit young professionals. We have an aggressive internship program for both summer-only and all-year duration. We also have a network of local colleges that are very helpful in putting us in contact with candidates, and we have formal co-op programs. Each year we develop a yearlong campus recruitment calendar that covers our target universities across the country. We will even visit some key schools more than once. WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff has relationships with some schools where they will send large groups of their students to our offices. And lastly, many WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff senior staff teach at colleges and universities where they can interact with students and offer internships during school or full-time employment after graduation.

Ron Parsley: We rely on career fairs, on-campus interviews, targeted presentations, and information sessions to help identify potential interns and new hires. We use these opportunities to reinforce our campus image and market our opportunities. We don’t have co-op programs set up with specific engineering schools; however, we do offer internships and work with engineering schools to fill these opportunities. Interns work with senior engineers on characteristically unique, complex projects. They have an opportunity to experience a team environment that emphasizes collaboration and planning, beginning at the earliest stages of the design process.

CSE: Do you find any value in attending engineering job fairs geared toward current engineering students or recent graduates? What are some of the benefits and challenges of recruitment efforts?

Meyer: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff does attend job fairs on college campuses, but not general public events. We prefer to attend job fairs at our targeted schools. The main benefit of this is to see face-to-face scores of candidates, if even for only 5 minutes. It is an excellent screening process. The challenge is when you "waste" time talking to a student who has not done their research on your firm and is clueless to the talent you are seeking.

Calabro: Burns & McDonnell attends college career fairs at dozens of universities each year. I love attending these, as it helps me understand the curriculum that’s being pushed in academia at a given time. I also like talking with dozens of students in a single day, because it gives me insight to what potential new hires are looking for in an employer.

Ferreira: We attend job fairs at several universities. One of the primary benefits is that it increases awareness for students in core engineering disciplines, such as mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering, of fire protection engineering, risk engineering, and other more specialized disciplines as a potential direction for their careers.

Parsley: We attend engineering career fairs in both the spring and the fall. Done properly, career fairs provide an ideal format for personal interaction and opening a dialogue that can last over the student’s college experience and beyond. It isn’t about brochures and giveaways, but putting a face on the name and building a long-term relationship.

Harris: Engineering career fairs are an important and successful component of our recruitment strategy. Career fairs give us a chance to interact with students and recent graduates, introducing many applicants to Stanley Consultants at one event. Though the time available with each individual is limited, career fairs help us target which candidates we would like to speak with again. One downside of career fairs is that some of our targeted schools tend to schedule the fairs on the same date, making it difficult for us to attend all that we would like to.

Koffel: There is a "career day" at the University of Maryland at which we make initial contact with many current students and recent graduates who are seeking intern or full-time engineer positions.

Lacy: We have found that large job fairs held in college field houses or student unions tend to be a poor way of finding qualified candidates. The speed and impersonal nature of these events attract only certain types of students, mainly those comfortable approaching strangers in large group settings. For this reason, job fair events don’t give a good cross-section of all of the qualified engineering candidates. Therefore, these fairs do not lend themselves to all of our recruitment needs.

CSE: What other means has your firm employed to seek out young talent?

Lacy: While referrals by existing young employees are good first steps to make introductions, we have found that we must focus our efforts on meeting students in a more personal setting than the job fair. Conducting smaller on-campus presentations and interviews tend to be more successful.

Meyer: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff uses its own website, social media, and recruitment firms. We also have an internal employee-referral bonus program.

Parsley: We sit on advisory boards at specific engineering schools, teach classes within engineering programs, speak at student organization events, and partner with student organizations to lead site visits and tours.

Koffel: Referrals from current engineers and allied professionals are also helpful. We have one young engineer who is personally responsible for at least three other recent hires as well as providing us resumes for some that we have not yet been able to hire. Other allied professionals, such as engineers in a different discipline, have referred students and recent graduates for us to consider.

Ferreira: Our firm recently sponsored a competition at the University of Maryland where individuals were encouraged to devise and present solutions to problems within the field of fire protection engineering. The competition stressed innovation and creative approaches to problems and was very well received by the students who participated.

Harris: We use many of the traditional methods such as job boards, websites, social media, employee referrals, active alumni, roundtables, etc.

CSE: What lessons have you learned in your efforts to find, hire, and train younger staff members?

Meyer: For finding, I heard a saying one time: "Hire for character and then train the skills needed." Most young people have little experience to differentiate themselves. I look for things such as an All-American in sports, which shows hard work and dedication; or longevity in a menial summer job that shows loyalty; or volunteer work, to name a few character traits. For training, you can never do enough. A good engineering graduate should know the basics, such as physics, but they never studied customer relations, simple management skills, and sometimes even teamwork skills. Also, some new hires have a hard time relating the textbook knowledge to real-life applications. They remember hearing about the term "enthalpy" in thermodynamics classes, and now we need to show them how to apply it in design work.

Lacy: You must listen to the needs of your staff, not just the managers but also the new hires themselves. Staffing needs change quickly; therefore, having a nimble and responsive recruiting team that is in tune with the expectations of the younger candidates will help you in making the right placement for the firm as well as the new hire.

Parsley: Because younger staff members are mobile, we look for talent that’s local to a region, anticipating more ties to stay in the area. The variety of our project work is then a boon to training, as younger staff members do not like repetition and are eager for the continued learning of appropriate challenges, right from the start.

Ferreira: I’ve learned that stressing the quality of our work environment and corporate culture is just as important as discussing the type of work the new hire will be doing. Young engineers also want to know about advancement opportunities and to what extent they can influence the type of work in which they will be involved. Stressing an environment that provides choices, even at a young age, increases the potential for being their employer of choice. I think our new hires recognize that as the "low man/woman on the totem pole," there are certain less desirable tasks they will be responsible for on a project. They just want an opportunity to participate in projects at a higher level, even if it means bringing them to project meetings to expose them to how their piece of the project fits into the bigger picture.

CSE: Does part of your recruitment package include preparing staff for their Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, or obtain their Engineer in Training (EIT) designation? What expectations do you set for these new hires?

Christopher O’Connor: While we recognize that taking this step is an individual decision and requires a strong personal commitment, our firm is very intentional in our support of those who have the desire to pursue certifications and/or licensure. This support comes in the form of study resources, time off related to studying and taking exams, and reimbursement for costs related to these pursuits. We are fortunate to have larger groups of young professionals in several offices, and these engineers and architects often form study groups that meet after work and on the weekends to help each other reach their goals.

Ferreira: Completing the FE and obtaining the EIT designation is an important step for most of our engineers, as it is necessary as consultants for these engineers to ultimately pass the Professional Engineer (PE) exam in their discipline. While we prefer new hires to have already taken the FE exam, for those who don’t, we financially support them in taking review classes to prepare for this exam.

Parsley: Employees are encouraged to obtain professional licenses such as EIT and PE. Many of our entry-level engineers have taken the FE exam before leaving school. We emphasize the value of professional licensure in a consulting-engineering environment and encourage all engineers to sit for their PE as soon as it is feasible. A PE is required for our most senior technical engineering positions.

Koffel: Most of our recent hires already have the EIT designation or have made plans to take the exam. We do encourage employees to prepare for the FE exam, and for more than 10 years we have enjoyed a 100% pass rate for first-time FE exam takers.

Lacy: WSP + ccrd strives to have a highly qualified and credentialed workforce. To this effort, we encourage our young staff to pursue various certifications including obtaining their EIT designation and eventually their PE. We offer financial assistance to employees to obtain these certifications and allow for preparation time and training, both internal and external to the company. We have found that university engineering programs that are serious about student job placement are encouraging their students to take their FE prior to graduation, and we seek out these programs to partner with and find qualified staff.

Harris: For some positions, we do require applicants to have passed the FE exam and to have obtained their EIT certification. Given the competitive nature of our positions, I would encourage graduating students to take and pass the FE as soon as possible. It shows our hiring managers that the new graduate is committed to a career in engineering and gives them an advantage over those who haven’t taken the exam.

Meyer: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff fully supports staff attempting the FE and the PE exam. We often set up study groups for all staff members looking to take the FE exam so they can study together for both the education and the morale. We also have monetary rewards for achieving a PE license, which we expect all senior-level staff to achieve.

CSE: In what engineering disciplines are you having the most difficulty recruiting?

Lacy: The difficulty finding qualified candidates in any given discipline varies regionally and is effected by hiring in other industries. For example, if the petrochemical industry is in a boom cycle for hiring, this has an impact on the availability of mechanical engineers in the South Central region of the U.S. Overall, finding candidates that are interested or qualified in building plumbing and fire protection design is more difficult in the Southwest region than it is in the Northeast. This is due, in part, to the draw in the South of petrochemical companies seeking mechanical engineers interested in fluid system design and also which universities are offering plumbing courses regionally.

Parsley: We have built relationships with key engineering schools and, as a result, have found success in hiring students and recent grads across disciplines, primarily targeting mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and architectural engineering majors. Our focus continues to be on hiring the best talent.

O’Connor: Our best recruiting tool is minimizing the need to recruit in the first place by keeping our current staff engaged and feeling valued. The truth is, there is a plethora of talent on the market right now; and while we grow, we’re putting in more legwork than ever before to find the right people to grow with—people who seamlessly fit with our culture and who will help us meet our strategic goals.

Meyer: It is a growing market, and competition is tough for good candidates in all disciplines. WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff is involved in many world-class projects, and we look for top-notch talent. Our offices are spread across the entire country and worldwide so a manager in New York who interviews an excellent candidate might forward the candidate’s resume to another office that might fit their talents better for long-term retention.

Harris: Stanley Consultants is a multidiscipline firm employing civil, electrical, environmental, mechanical, and structural engineers. Depending on the location, hiring experienced engineers can be a challenge, but we have been very successful with recruiting new graduates at all of our locations, regardless of the discipline.

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.