The future of professional engineers: communication

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 address how senior and new talent communicate.


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.


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: Do younger staff members communicate differently, and how has your team adjusted to include these new communication needs?

Harris: Both our young and our seasoned employees tend to use the same standard communication channels. Texting has become a more common method of communication, but it is being embraced by all generations, not just millennials. In fact, we are looking at adding texting as a standard communication channel with employees.

Koffel Associates Inc. treats its younger staff members to a Baltimore Ravens game. Courtesy: Koffel Associates Inc.Ferreira: Young staff members/millennials have no problems communicating and telling you their opinions and feelings. Senior staff members must make themselves available to junior staff, as being dismissive is the worst thing you can do to a millennial. Young staff members also love to communicate via email and text rather than face to face. We often have to encourage them to come to our offices to discuss issues to avoid lengthy email back-and-forth and also warn them to be careful with what thoughts they put in writing.

Calabro: The younger staff members certainly rely more on instant messenger and texting, but everyone—regardless of age—has unique communication preferences. I encourage project teams to talk with each other about their communication preferences so that they can be as efficient and effective as possible.

Parsley: Definitely. Younger staff members can be shy due to entering a workplace environment of all ages and levels of experience, which is quite different from their college environment. It also seems that younger staff members often speak and write more bluntly. While that can be useful and to the point, it might not incorporate the nuance of a situation and can easily be misconstrued or taken negatively by the other parties. We provide an extremely user-friendly internal knowledge-sharing platform that can help both younger and senior staff become comfortable with more developed communication habits.

Meyer: Young staff members definitely communicate more through electronics, such as email, instant messaging, and social media. For example, we had a company event touring Manhattan in a boat. I asked one of my staff members what she was doing with her phone as we passed the Statue of Liberty; she was snap chatting! We adjust by giving them the technology they use every day: iPhones, iPads, laptops, portal hot spots.

Lacy: From one generation to the next, there have always been differences in communication expectations. We have found that the key to success is working to understand each other's communication expectations upfront. While some employees, whether based on age, culture, or personality type, may be more comfortable using text versus verbal communication, it is important to learn about your co-worker's preferred style so that you can work together most effectively. Communication tends to break down when both parties think that their style of communication is the only correct style.

Koffel: We actually did an activity to address this issue and found that most of the employees all wanted a similar form of communication. What was surprising to many was the desire for face-to-face communication.

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