With a growing need for qualified engineers and CMs, local agencies and entities are looking at various ways to bridge the employment gap between those just entering the workforce and seasoned executives who currently work in the construction management industry.
During the recent economic turndown, many engineers turned to other industries for employment opportunities. Today, companies are building the next generation of employees, consisting of graduating engineers and CMs.
A recent session held during the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) Conference & Trade Show in San Diego, CA, addressed the importance of recognizing how things have traditionally been done in the past and finding new ways to meet current demands.
Four panelists from a wide range of backgrounds spoke about their personal experiences with the employment gap and what they are doing to address this widespread problem. They came together to discuss the next generation of engineering.
They included: Ross Bowen, a recent graduate of National University with a BS in construction engineering technology; John Prince, PE, PMP, QSD, adjunct professor of engineering/construction at San Diego State University; Myrna Dayton, PE, DCE, deputy director of construction management with the City of San Diego; and Dirk Epperson, PE, MPA, QSD, manager of engineering/construction at the Port of San Diego.
After graduating from National University, Bowen said he found it very difficult to find employment. He soon recognized that many engineering students in a similar situation have unrealistically high expectations about obtaining their first job as well as a lack of awareness of the opportunities available in the market. Due to a lack of industry experience, most are unfamiliar knowing and understanding the bureaucracy that often occurs in an organization and it is compounded with tremendous financial pressure. Many engineering graduates are finding there are limited internships, tough entry level requirements as well as low pay at the entry level, and a lack of outreach by professionals.
Prince is an example of a professional who took steps to share his practical experience by bringing it into the classroom. After working as an engineer for several years, Prince observed the lack of knowledge and experience among students entering the profession and had a strong desire to cultivate engineering students to join the industry. This prompted him to join the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering. It is the only Construction, Engineering and Management degree within the California State University System. Dr. Ken Walsh and J.R. Filanc were instrumental initiating the program in the early 2000s and it has grown to include 23 part-time lecturers and 11 full-time faculty.
Dayton stressed the importance of reaching out to graduating engineers through various outreach programs. As part of the City of San Diego, she has found it a constant struggle to fill a large number of positions in a short amount of time. Her approach to meet this challenge is to continually communicate about the engineering profession. This includes interviewing and setting up hiring halls as well as implementing a robust training program. She said another key focus is to keep up with the new technology available.
At the Port of San Diego, Epperson said they are finding that prospective employees do not have enough experience when they apply. Some of the possible solutions to address this problem are implementing a training program, offering internships, and potentially rewriting the classification. Another recommendation he offered is to implement a trainee position program that could eventually lead to a full-time position.
The panelists invited feedback from conference attendees on bridging the employment gap. By working together, sharing ideas and putting those ideas into practice, it will help replenish the engineering workforce and build a stronger industry overall.
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